Trial of Criminal Cases in India

Whenever a crime is committed it forms a criminal case. This criminal case is registered by the police through FIR. After filing the FIR, Police begin their investigation and gather evidence. The police might make arrests if found necessary. The police report is then submitted to the appropriate Court in the form of a charge sheet. The Court takes cognizance of the case. And then starts a trial against the offender. The cognizance could also be taken suo moto.

What is a Trial?

Trial is basically the whole procedure that is followed in front of the Court when any person is charged with any offence. This is done after the competent Court takes cognizance of the case.

It is the principle of criminal law that a person charged with any offence will be punished only after his guilt has been proven before the Court.

In India, the trials can be separated by four forums −

  • Trial before the Court of Sessions

  • Trial of Warrant cases

  • Trial of Summons cases

  • Summary trial

Trial before the Court of Sessions

When offences that are punishable with a death sentence, life imprisonment or upto two years of imprisonment, are registered, they are called as ‘warrant cases’. These are triable only by the Court of Session or by a Magistrate.

The Session Court cannot take cognizance of any case on its own; rather, the case needs to be committed to it by any Magistrate, who shall first take cognizance even in cases where the offence is exclusively triable by the Court of Session.

The whole procedure of the trial before the Court of Session has been provided under Chapter XVIII of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. The sections covered are from Sections 225 to 237.

The trial before the Court of Session is conducted by the Public Prosecutor appointed by the Central or the State Government. He is the person who opens the case before the Court by describing the charges imposed on the accused as well as the evidence that he proposes to prove his guilt.

If the Court does not find any proper case where the accused should be prosecuted, he discharges him. Otherwise, he frames the charges according to the offence. If the case is exclusively triable by the Court of Session, then it is tried, lest it be sent to the Magistrate for trial.

If the accused pleads guilty, then a sentence is awarded, otherwise, a date is given for the prosecution’s evidence. After hearing the prosecution witnesses and evidence, if the Court finds that there is no substantial evidence against the accused, he is acquitted. But, if there is evidence then the accused is allowed to present his defence.

After hearing the arguments of both the parties, the Judge gives a judgment of acquittal or conviction according to the evidence presented in the Court. If there has been any previous conviction, or any offence has been committed by the accused in the past for which he was warned, then such shall be taken into consideration while pronouncing the sentence of punishment.

Trial of Warrant Cases

The trial of warrant cases is either conducted before the Court of Session or the Magistrate. This forum of trial has been provided under Chapter XIX, covering Sections 238-250 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. When the trial is conducted before the Magistrate Court, two types of procedures are followed for different cases −

  • Cases instituted on a police report

  • Cases instituted otherwise than on a police report

Cases Instituted on a Police Report

When a case is instituted on a police report submitted to the Court, the Magistrate shall make sure the requisite conditions of Section 207 have been fulfilled. If, after seeing the report and giving the parties a chance of being heard, the Court is of the opinion that the charges made against the accused are groundless, then he shall discharge him.

If the Court does not discharge the accused, it frames the charges against him, and if he pleads guilty to the charges, then a sentence is awarded; otherwise, evidence from the prosecution is examined. After the prosecution’s evidence, the defence presents its evidence and witnesses.

Cases Otherwise than on a Police Report

When a warrant case is instituted otherwise than on the police report or is instituted on a police report, the accused is brought before the Court and the Magistrate takes into account the prosecution witnesses and evidence. If after taking the prosecution evidence, the Magistrate is of the opinion or finds that there is a substantial case against the accused, then he shall discharge him.

If the accused is not discharged, then the Magistrate frames charges against the accused, and if the accused pleads guilty, he is awarded a sentence. But if he does not plead guilty, then the remaining witnesses of the prosecution are examined, cross-examined, and re-examined (if required). After which the defence witnesses are called upon.

The conclusions of the trials are the same. After either of the procedures, the Judge passes a sentence of acquittal or conviction on the basis of the evidence presented before the Court. If the accused has been previously convicted in a similar case, then the Court also takes into account the previous conviction.

When the case is instituted on a complaint and the complainant is absent on the date of judgment, the Court may discharge the accused if the case is compoundable and non-cognizable. For the cases filed on a complaint, if it is found to be a frivolous complaint, then the complainant is ordered by the Court to pay compensation to the person against whom the complaint was filed.

Trial of Summons Cases

A case that is not a warrant case, or, in other words, a case concerning a crime punishable with less than two years of imprisonment, is called a summons case. The trial procedure for the summons cases has been provided under Chapter XX, including Sections 251-259 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. These are triable by any Magistrate.

In a summons case, when the accused is brought before the Court of Magistrate, he is briefed on all the particulars of the case. And thereafter, asked if he pleads guilty or not. There is a compulsion to frame a formal charge for the same. If he does not plead guilty, then the Magistrate calls upon the prosecution’s evidence and witnesses.

After hearing the prosecution and defence witnesses and evidence, the Magistrate gives a judgement as to the acquittal or conviction of the accused. When the Court requires the complainant to be present in the Court and he is not present due to any reason, including the death of the complainant, the Court may acquit the accused, except in cases where the Court has itself exempted the complainant’s presence or where he is being represented by a pleader.

The complaint can be withdrawn any time before the final judgement of the Court. The Court acquits the accused in this case. Where the case is not on complaint, the Magistrate has the power to stop its proceedings and discharge or acquit the accused. When the case is punishable with more than six months of imprisonment and the Court thinks it should be tried as a warrant case, then the Magistrate can re-hear it as a warrant case.

Summary Trials

Summary trial is an abridged form of trial in summons cases. It has been provided under Chapter XXI, provisioned from Sections 260-265 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Since it is an abridged form of trial, only the senior Judges are empowered to try it. Even the Magistrate of Second Class may try, but only when empowered by the High Court.

The procedure established is that of summons cases. But the punishment awarded at the summary trial shall be a maximum of three months’ imprisonment. There shall be a record of summary trials, and the judgment shall sate the reasons for the finding if the accused has not pleaded guilty. The judgment shall be in the language of the Court.


The trial procedure mentioned in the Code of Criminal Procedure is not exhaustive. These are the basic outline. But, there may be a little altercation, like no audience or camera proceedings as per the requirement of the case. But the basic outline has to be followed in all criminal trials in India. And the judgement pronounced is binding on all the parties. The trials in India guarantee fair and reasonable chance to all the parties.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What is the difference between discharge and acquittal during a trial?

Ans. An accused is said to be discharged when, before the framing of charges, the Court decides to release him, whereas, acquittal means to release the accused after the framing of charges. Moreover, a fresh case may be filed against the person on the same grounds in the same Court when the accused is discharged, whereas in the case of an acquittal, the opposite party needs to file an appeal, review, or revision.

Q2. Does the accused get a chance to explain his case during trial?

Ans. Yes, in the statements under Section 313 CrPC given by the accused, he has the right to state his case to the Court.

Updated on: 11-May-2023


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