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The Charge sheet, whether a public document or not?

Introduction

The charge sheet is an important procedure in which the magistrate examines and conducts an initial inquiry to know the complicity of the offender in the crime. As per Section 2(b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the Charge includes any head of a charge when the charge consists of more than one head. In the general sense, it means what are the reasons that a person is a trial for an offense, and a chargesheet is a basis that defines the offenses

What is the Chargesheet

The concept of a charge sheet is defined under section 173(2) of Code of Criminal Procedure of the. According to the section if the police officer forms an opinion that an offense has been committed, then the police report submitted by him is called the chargesheet and it must be filed against the accused within 60-90 days. The charge sheet contains

  1. Parties’ name
  2. Content of the information
  3. People who seem to know the circumstances of the case
  4. If it shows that an offense has been performed and who did it
  5. Has the accused been taken into custody
  6. Has he been released on his bond or not
  7. Is he in custody

If the police officer forms an opinion that no offense has been committed then the police report submitted by him is called the closure report or final report, so a chargesheet and closure report are two different things.

After preparing a chargesheet, the officer in charge of the police station sends the notice to the magistrate so that charges can be framed. In Abhinandan Jha and others v Dinesh Mishra, the Supreme Court held that the police officer cannot be forced by the magistrate, to submit the chargesheet

It is to be noted that Section 173(2) of C.R.P.C applies to the investigation started on F.I.R under section 154 and to investigate in a Non-cognizable case by order of the Magistrate under section 155(2) of the code of criminal procedure, 1973

What is F.I.R

F.I.R. is the details and facts (verbal or in writing) of a criminal act that can be given to a police officer in charge of a police station. This is the information about the offense that occurs for the first time and that information is used to start an investigation. F.I.R. is defined under section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The essentials of section 154 are as follows:

  1. The information must be related to the cognizable offenses.
  2. The officer in charge of the police station should have access to information
  3. The officer-in-charge of the police station or his superintendent should write down any oral information that they receive
  4. An informant must read the information
  5. The informant is obligated to sign the F.I.R
  6. The essence of the information shall be listed in a book in the way the state government may be ordered on this behalf, this book is termed, the general diary.
  7. The informant ought to receive a free copy of the information

It is to be noted that F.I.R doesn’t need to be launched by the eye-witnessed only and it can be hearsay, In the case of Soma bhai v State of Gujrat, , the Supreme court held that an F.I.R can be filed if a telephonic message discloses a crime that can be considered cognizable

In Lalita Kumari, v Government of Uttar Pradesh and others,  It was held by the Supreme court the Police Officer is duty-bound to register the F.I.R. The police do not have the option of first conducting a preliminary investigation before filing an F.I.R

But cases in which the preliminary inquiry should be made before the lodging of F.I.R are as follow:

  1. Matrimonial family disputes
  2. Medical negligence cases
  3. Commercial disputes
  4. Cases of dishonest dealings (like corruption)
  5. Cases in which there is an unusual delay in lodging of F.I.R

Why chargesheet is not a public document

Recently in the case of Sourav das v Union of India and others The Supreme court said that the chargesheet is not available to the public and dismisses the plea to publish chargesheets filed by the police on government websites. The plea filed by the Journalist Sourav Das through advocate Prashant Bhushan states that “ Citizens has a legal and constitutional right to distinction publication of chargesheets because the right to know is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(A) that is Right to freedom of speech and expression”. In this case, the panel of Judges held that if any charge sheet is made public then it is violating the basic principles of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973. The court said that the chargesheet is not a public document, therefore it can not be published online. By doing so, the rights of the accused as well as the victim of the crime and also the investigating agency are compromised and the petitioner also flagged the issue of fake news that may arise from selective or erroneous leaks of chargesheets leading to media trials. The court further said that the chargesheet can not be equated with the F.I.R., according to Section 74 and Section 76 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872, the chargesheet is not a public document.

Section 74 of the Indian Evidence Act discusses public documents and following documents are open to the public:

  1. Documents that keep track of actions or acts
  2. Documents issued by the sovereign authority
  3. Documents of courts and official bodies
  4. Documents of legislative, judicial, and executive officers of the public from any part of India, commonwealth nations, or foreign country
  5. The public record of private documents kept in a state

So this section includes public documents and their attested copies should be provided by the public authority

According to Section 76 of Indian Evidence Act, any public official who has custody of such documents is required to provide a copy, a certificate of attestation bearing the date, seal, name, and position of the official, as well as the demand for legal fees

CONCLUSION

So far we have come to know that a charge sheet is not a public document. Chargesheets should remain confidential, and there is no need to make them public. Further, chargesheets should not be uploaded by any agencies on their websites. As Supreme Court does not support any media trials and in such cases, whoever conducts a media trial cannot influence the Indian Judiciary.

Author(s) Name: Anmol Chalana (University Law College, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur)