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Q. What is a Charge? What are the contents of a Charge? Discuss the effects of errors in a Charge? How is a Charge different from FIR?  

Charge
As per Wharton's law Lexicon, Charge means to prefer an acusation against some one. To charge a person means to accuse that person of some offence. However, charge is not a mere accusation made by a complainant or an informant. A charge is a formal recognition of concrete accusations by a magistrate or a court based upon a complaint or information against the accused. A charge is drawn up by a court only when the court is satisfied by the prima facie evidence against the accused. The basic idea behind a charge is to make the accused understand what exactly he is accused of so that he can defend himself. A charge gives the accused accurate and precise information about the accusation against him.A charge is written in the language of the court and the fact that the charge is made means that every legal condition required by law to constitute the offence charged is fulfilled in the particular case.

It is a basic principle of law that when a court summons a person to face a charge, the court must be equipped with at least prima facie material to show that the person being charged is guilty of the offences contained in the charge. Thus, while framing a charge, the court must apply its mind to the evidence presented to it and must frame a charge only if it is satisfied that a case exists against the accused. In the case of State vs Ajit Kumar Saha 1988, the material on record did not show a prima facie case but the charges were still framed by the magistrate. Since there was no application of mind by the magistrate, the order framing the charges was set aside by the High Court.


According to Section 2(b) of Cr P C, when a charge contains more than one heads, the head of charges is also a charge.

Contents of a Charge
Section 211 specifies the contents of a Charge as follows [ONDSLP] -
(1) Every charge under this Code shall state the offence with which the accused is charged.
(2) If the law that creates the offence gives it any specific name, the offence may be described in the charge by that name only.
(3) If the law that creates the offence does not give it any specific name so much of the definition of the offence must be stated as to give the accused notice of the matter with which he is charged.
(4) The law and section of the law against which the offence is said to have been committed shall be mentioned in the charge.
(5) The fact that the charge is made is equivalent to a statement that every legal condition required by law to constitute the offence charged was fulfilled in the particular case.
(6) The charge shall be written in the language of the court.
(7) If the accused, having been previously convicted of any offence, is liable, by reason of such previous conviction, to enhanced punishment, or to punishment of a different kind, for a subsequent offence, and it is intended to prove such previous conviction for the purpose of affecting the punishment which the court may think fit to award for the subsequent offence, the fact date and place of the previous, conviction shall be stated in the charge; and if such statement has been omitted, the court may add it at any time before sentence is passed.

A charge must list the offence with which the person is charged. It must specify the law and the section against which that offence has been done. For example, if a person is charged with Murder, the charge must specify Section 300 of Indian Penal Code. If the law gives a name to that offence, the charge must also specify that name and if the law does not specify any name for that offence, the charge must specify the detail of the offence from the definition of the offence so that the accused is given a clear idea of it.

In many cases, on offender is given a bigger sentence for subsequent offence. In such cases, the charge must also state the date and place of previous conviction so that a bigger punishment may be given.

Illustrations -

(a) A is charged with the murder of B. This is equivalent to a statement that A's act fell within the definition of murder given in sections 299 and 300 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860); that it did not fall within any of the general exceptions of the said Code; and that it did not fall within any of the five exceptions to section 300, or that, if it did fall within Exception 1, one or other of the three provisos to that exception applied to it.
(b) A is charged under section 326 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860) with voluntarily causing grievous hurt to B by means of an instrument for shooting. This is equivalent to a statement that the case was not provided for by section 335 of the said Code, and that the general exceptions did not apply to it.
(c) A is accused of murder, cheating, theft, extortion, adultery or criminal intimidation, or using a false property-mark. The charge may state that A committed murder, or cheating, or theft, or extortion, or adultery, or criminal intimidation, or that he used a false property-mark, without reference to the definition, of those crimes contained in the Indian Penal Code; but the sections under which the offence is punishable must, in each instance, be referred to in the charge.
(d) A is charged under section 184 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860) with intentionally obstructing a sale of property offered for sale by the lawful authority of a public servant. The charge should be in those words.

Time and Place of the offence
Further, as per section 212, the charge must also specify the essential facts such as time, place, and person comprising the offence.  For example, if a person is charged with Murder, the charge must specify the name of the victim and date and place of the murder. In case of Shashidhara Kurup vs Union of India 1994, no particulars of offence were stated in the charge. It was held that the particulars of offence are required to be stated in the charge so that the accused may take appropriate defence. Where this is not done and no opportunity is afforded to the accused to defend his case, the trial will be bad in law for being violative of the principles of natural justice.

It is possible that exact dates may not be known and in such cases, the charge must specify information that is reasonably sufficient to give the accused the notice of the matter with which he is charged. In cases of criminal breach of trust, it will be enough to specify gross sum or the dates between which the offence was committed.

Manner of committing the offence

Some times, even the time and place do not provide sufficient notice of the offence which which a person is charged. In such situations, Section 213, mandates that the manner in which the offence was made must also be specified in the charge. It says that when the nature of the case is such that the particulars mentioned in sections 211 and 212 do not give accused sufficient notice of the matter with which he is charged, the charge shall also contain such particulars of the manner is which the alleged offence was committed as will be sufficient for that Purpose.

Illustrations-

(a) A is accused of the theft of a certain article at a certain time and place the charge need not set out the manner in which the theft was effected
(b) A is accused of cheating B at a given time and place. The charge must be set out the manner in which A cheated B.
(c) A is accused of giving false evidence at a given time and place. The charge must set out that portion of the evidence given by A which is alleged to be false.
(d) A is accused of obstructing B, a public servant, in the discharge or his public functions at a given time and place. The charge must set out the manner obstructed B in the discharge of his functions.
(e) A is accused of the murder of B at a given time and place. The charge need not state the manner in which A murdered B.
(f) A is accused of disobeying a direction of the law with intent to save punishment. The charge must set out the disobedience charged and the law infringed.

Effects of errors in a Charge
In general, an error in a Charge is not material unless it can be shown that the error misled the accused or that the error caused injustice. Section 215 says, "No error in stating either the offence or the particulars required to be stated in the charge, and no omission to state the offence shall be regarded at any stage of the case as material, unless the accused was in fact misled by such error or omission, and it has occasioned a failure of justice."

Illustrations:

(a) A is charged under section 242 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), with "having, been in possession of counterfeit coin, having known at the time when he became possessed thereof that such coin was counterfeit," the word "fraudulently" being omitted in the charge. Unless it appears that A was in fact misled by this omission, the error shall not be regarded as material.
(b) A is charged with cheating B, and the manner in which he cheated B is not set out in the charge, or is set out incorrectly. A defends himself, calls witnesses and gives his own account of the transaction. The court may infer from this that the omission to set out the manner of the cheating is not material.
(c) A is charged with cheating B, and the manner in which he cheated B is not set out in the charge. There were many transactions between A and B, and A had no means of knowing to which of them the charge referred, and offered no defence. Court may infer from such facts that the omission to set out the manner of was, in the case, a material error.
(d) A is charged with the murder of Khoda Baksh on the 21st January 1882. In fact, the murdered person's name was Haidar Baksh, and the date of the murder was the 20th January. 1882. A was never charged with any murder but one, and had heard the inquiry before the Magistrate, which referred exclusively to the case of Haidar Baksh. The court may infer from these facts that A was not misled, and that the error in the charge was immaterial.
(e) A was charged with murdering Haidar Baksh on the 20th January, 1882, and Khoda Baksh (who tried to arrest him for that murder) on the 21st January, 1882. When charged for the murder of Haidar Baksh, he was tried for the murder of Khoda Baksh. The witnesses present in his defence were witnesses in the case of Haidar Baksh. The court may infer from this that A was misled, and that the error was material.

The above illustrations show that when the accused in not misled, the error is not material. For example, in the case of Rawalpenta Venkalu vs State of Hyderabad, 1956, the charge failed to mention the Section number 34 of IPC but the description of the offence was mentioned clearly. SC held that the the section number was only of acedemic significance and the ommission was immaterial.

Section 464 further provides that an order, sentence, or finding of a court will not be deemed invalid merely on the ground that no charge was framed or on the ground of any error, omission or irregularity in the charge including any misjoinder  of charges, unless in the opinion of the court of appeal, confirmation, or revision, a failure of justice has in fact happened because of it. If such a court of appeal, confirmation, or revision find that a failure of justice has indeed happened, in case of omission, it may order that a charge be immediately framed and that the trial be recommenced from the point immediately after the framing of the charge, and in case of error, omission, or irregularity in the charge, it may order new trial to be held upon a charge framed in whatever manner it thinks fit.

As is evident, the object of these sections is to prevent failure of justice where there has been only technical breach of rules that does not affect the root of the case as such. As held in the case of Kailash Gir vs V K Khare, Food Inspector, 1981, the above two sections read together lay down that whatever be the irregularity in framing the charge, it is not fatal unless there is prejudice caused to the accused.

Further, Section 216 allows the court to alter the charge anytime before the judgement is pronounced.

Section 216:
(1) Any court may alter or add to any charge at any time before judgment is pronounced.
(2) Every such alteration or addition shall be read and explained to the accused.
(3) If the alteration or addition to a charge is such that proceeding immediately with the trial is not likely, in the opinion of the court to prejudice the accused in his defence or the prosecutor in the conduct of the case the court may, in its discretion, after such alteration or addition has been made, proceed with the trial as if the altered or added charge had been the original charge.
(4) If the alteration or addition is such that proceeding immediately with the trial is likely, in the opinion of the court to prejudice the accused or the prosecutor as aforesaid, the court may either direct a new trial or adjourn the trial for such period as may be necessary.
(5) lf the offence stated in the altered or added charge is one for the prosecution of which previous section is necessary, the case shall not be proceeded with until such sanction is obtained, unless sanction had been already obtained for a prosecution on the same facts as those on which the altered or added charge is founded.

Thus, even if there is an error in a charge, it can be corrected at a later stage. An error in a charge is not important as long as the accused in not prejudiced and principles of natural justice are not violated.

Difference between Charge and FIR
A First Information Report is a description of the situation and the act that constitutes a cognizable offence as given to the office in charge of a police station by any person. Such information is signed by the person giving the information. If the information is given orally, it is reduced in writing by the officer in charge, read over to the informant, and then signed by the person. The substance of this information is also entered into a register which is maintained by the officer. This is the first time when an event is brought to the attention of the police. The objective of the FIR is to put the police in motion for investigating the occurance of an act, which could potentially be a cognizable offence.

An FIR is a mere allegation of the happening of a cognizable offence by any person. It provides a description of an event but it may not necessarily provide complete evidence. No judicial mind has to be applied while writing the FIR. However, upon receipt of an FIR, the police investigates the issue, collects relevant evidence, and if necessary, places the evidence before a magistrate. Based on these preliminary findings of the police, the magistrate then formally prepares a charges , with which the perpetrator is charged.

Thus, an FIR is one path that leads to a Charge. An FIR is vague in terms of the offences but Charge is a precise formulation of the offences committed. An FIR is a description of an event, while a Charge is a description of the offences committed in that event. An FIR may or may not name an offender but a charge is always against a person. An FIR is always of a cognizable offence, but a charge may also include a non-cognizable offence.

Q. Explain the principle of separate charges for distinct offences. Are there any exceptions? (sec 218, 219, 220, 221, 223). When can multiple offences be charged separately, when can they be tried in the same/different trial? What do you understand by Joinder of charges?

The initial requirement in conducting a fair trial in criminal cases is a precise statement of the charges of the accused. This requirement is ensured by CrPC through Sections 211 to 214, which define the contents of a charge.  Precise formulation of charges will amount to nothing if  numerous unconnected charges are clubbed together and tried together. To close this gap, Section 218 enunciates the basic principle that for every distinct offence there should be a separate charge and that every such charge must be tried separately.

Section 218 says thus -
(1) For every distinct offence of which any person is accused there shall be a separate charge and every such charge shall be tried separately:
Provided that where the accused person, by an application in writing, so desires and the Magistrate is of opinion that such person is not likely to be prejudiced thereby the Magistrate may try together all or any number of the charges framed against such person.
Illustration
A is accused of a theft on one occasion, and of causing grievous hurt on another occasion. A must be separately charged and separately tried for the theft and causing grievous hurt.

The object of Section 218 is to save the accused from being frustrated in his defense if distinct offences are lumped together in one charge or in multiple charges but tried in the same trial. Another reason is that the court may become prejudiced against the accused if he were tried in one trial for multiple charges resting on different evidence since it might be difficult for the court not be get influenced on one charge by evidence against him on other charges.
It must be noted that Section 218 says "distinct offences" must be charged and tried separated. It does not say "every offence" or "each offence". It has been held in Banwarilal Jhunjhunwala vs Union of India AIR 1963, that "distinct offence" is different from "every offence" and "each offence". Separate charge is required for distinct offence and not necessarily for every offence or each offence. Two offences are distinct if they are not identical and are not in any way interrelated. A distinct offence may distinguished from other offences by difference in time or place of commitment, victims of the offence, or by difference in the sections of the law which make the acts as offence.

However, a strict observance to Section 218 will lead to multiplicity of trials, which is also not desirable. Therefore sections 219 to 223 provide certain exceptions to this basic rule. These are as follows -
[3TBDGDJ]

Exception 1. Three offences of the same kind within a year - Section 219 - When a person is accused of more than one offences of the same kind within a span of twelve months, he may be charged and tried at one trial for any number of such offences not exceeding three. For example, if a person is accused of theft in three different homes in the span 12 months, he can be charged with all the three at once and tried at the same trial. The period of 12 months is counted from the occurance of the first offence up to the last offence.  
An offence is considered to be of the same kind if it is punishable by the same amount of punishment under the same section of IPC or of the local or special law. Further, if the attempt to commit an offence is an offence, then it is considered an offence of the same kind for the purpose of this section.

Exception 2. Offences committed in the course of same transaction - Section 220(1) - If a person commits multiple offences in a series of acts that constitutes one transaction, he may be charged with and tried in one trial for every such offence. The code does not define the meaning of the term transaction. However, it is well accepted that a precise definition of transaction is not possible and even Supreme Court has not attempted to define it. In case of State of AP vs Cheemalapati Ganeshwara Rao, AIR 1963, SC observed that, it would always be difficult to define precisely what the expression means. Whether a transaction is to be regarded as same would depend upon the facts of each case. But is is generally thought that were their is proximity of time, place, or unity of purpose and design or continuity of action in a series of acts, it may be possible that they form part of the same transaction. It is however not necessary that every one of these elements should coexist for considering the acts as part of the same transaction.
For example, A commits house-breaking by day with intent to commit adultery, and commits in the house so entered, adultery with B's wife. A may be separately charged with, and convicted of, offences under sections 454(Lurking house trespass or house breaking with an intention to commit offence punishable with imprisonment) and 497(Adultery) of the Indian Penal Code.

Exception 3 - Offences of criminal breach of trust or dishonest misappropriation of property and their companion offences of falsification of accounts - Section 220(2) - Usually the offence of criminal breach of trust or dishonest misappropriation of property is committed with the help of offence of falsification of accounts to conceal the main offence. This section allows such offences to be charged with and tried at one trial.

Exception 4 -  Same act falling under different definitions of offences - Section 220(3) - If an act constitutes an offence under two or more separate definitions of any law in force, the person may be charged with and tried at one trial for each of the offences. For example, A wrongfully strikes B with a cane. This act constitutes an offence as per Section 323 (Voluntarily causing hurt) as well as Section 252 (Assult or criminal force otherthan on grave provocation). Thus, the person may be charged with both and tried for both the offences at the same trial.

Exception 5 - Acts forming an offence, also constituting different offences when taken separately or in groups -  Section 220(4) - When several acts together constitute an offence and those acts, which taken individually or in groups, also constitune another offence or offences, the person committing those acts may be be charged with and tried at one trial. For example, A commits robbery on B, and in doing so voluntarily causes hurt to him. A may be separately charged, with and convicted of offences under sections 323(Voluntarily causing hurt), 392(Robbery) and 394(Voluntarily causing hurt while committing robbery) of the Indian Penal Code.
 
Exception 6 - Where it is doubtful what offence has been committed -  Section 221 - If a single act or a series of acts is of such nature that it is doubtful which of the several offence the facts of the case will constitute, the accused may be charged with having committed all or any of such offences and all or any of such charges may be tried at once. Further, in such a situation, when a person is charged with an offence but according to evidence it appears that he committed another offence, he may be convicted of the offence which he is shown to have committed even if he is not charged with that offence. For example,  A is accused of an, Act which may amount to theft, or receiving stolen property, or criminal breach of trust or cheating. He may be charged with theft, receiving stolen property, criminal breach of trust and cheating, or he may be charged with having committed theft, or receiving stolen property or criminal breach of trust or cheating.
Further, in the same case mentioned, lets say, A is only charged with theft and it appears that he committed the offence of criminal breach of trust, or that of receiving stolen goods. He may be convicted of criminal breach of trust of receiving stolen goods (as the case may be) though he was not charged with such offence.

Another illustration is as follows - A states on oath before the Magistrate that he saw B hit C with a club. Before the Sessions Court A states on oath that B never hit C. A may be charged in the alternative and convicted of intentionally giving false evidence, although it cannot to be proved which of these contradictory statements was false.

Exception 7 - Certain persons may be charged jointly -  Section 223 - The following persons may be charged and tried together, namely:-
(a) persons accused of the same offence committed in the course of the same transaction;
(b) persons accused of an offence and persons accused of abetment of, or attempt to commit, such offence;
(c) persons accused of more than one offence of the same kind, within the meaning of section 219 committed by them jointly within the period of twelve months;
(d) persons accused of different offences committed in the course of the same transaction;
(e) persons accused of an offence which includes theft, extortion, cheating, or criminal misappropriation, and persons accused of receiving or retaining, or assisting in the disposal or concealment of, property possession of which is alleged to have been transferred by any such offence committed by the first-named persons, or of abetment of or attempting to commit any such last-named offence;
(f) persons accused of offences under sections 411 and 414 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860) or either of those sections in respect of stolen property the possession of which has been transferred by one offence;
(g) persons accused of any offence under Chapter XII of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860) relating to counterfeit coin and persons accused of any other offence under the said Chapter relating to the same coin, or of abetment of or attempting to commit any such offence; and the provisions contained in the former part of this Chapter shall, so far as may be, apply to all such charges :

Provided that where a number of persons are charged with separate offences and such persons do not fall within any of the categories specified in this section, the Magistrate may, if such persons by an application in writing, so desire, and if he is satisfied that such persons would not be prejudicially affected thereby, and it is expedient so to do, try all such persons together.