The Criminal procedure code provides different types of trial to provide possible means in order to reach the ends of justice in an adversarial system. The classification of trial solely depends upon gravity of the offences, namely,
- Trial before sessions court
- Trial of warrant cases by Magistrates
- Trial of summons cases by Magistrates
- Summary trials
The first two kinds of trials are designated for warrant cases and the last two for summons cases which shows the intention of the law makers to sub divide the warrant cases and summons cases into two categories for devising suitable trial procedures.
A warrant case for the purpose of the Act, is a case relating to an offence punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term exceeding two years and other petty cases would come under summons cases. Cases tried before a Court of Session are all warrant cases except defamation cases under s.237. Those cases will be tried by the Magistrates as given under Column 6 of First Schedule and these procedures are comparatively elaborate owing to its nature of gravity and seriousness.
These warrant cases under ss.238 to 250 are further divided into two main categories depending on the nature of the complaint. Ss.238 to 243 deals with the provisions relating to the trial of warrant cases instituted through police report and ss.244 to 247 deals with other types like that of a private complaint. The last part of this cluster, say from s.248 to 250 deals with the procedures for conclusion of trial, that remains common to both the categories. This kind of classification was not present in the Code of 1898, and was then amended by 1955, inserting two provisions ss.251 and 251A for the older s.251, which was later adopted in 1973 enactment.
Difference between trial of summons and warrant cases:
S.2(w) of CrPC defines a summons case to be relating to an offence, and which does not qualify to be a warrant case. Hence, we can come to a conclusion, a summons case is one which relates to less serious offences for which the imprisonment will not exceed beyond two years. Such a distinction is sought to make the trial procedures more efficient and convenient. The notable differences between them would include:
• There are two procedures for warrant cases – i.e, by police report and otherwise than on police report but only one procedure is followed for trial of summons cases
• A charge need not be essentially framed for summons case, details of offence would be sufficient but charges must be framed in warrant cases.
• The complainant can withdraw the complaint with the permission of the court in summons case whereas such withdrawal is possible only when the accused is convicted for one and the option is given to withdraw the charges for remaining offences and not otherwise.
• The accused is acquitted if complainant is absent or is dead in summons case where in warrant cases, acquittal can only be done in compoundable or non-cognizable offence when the complainant is absent.
• If the accused pleads guilty under s.252, the Magistrate records his plea and shall convict him in summons cases whereas for warrant cases, the Magistrate has discretion to convict under s.241.
• The plea of guilty can be made even by post in summons and in warrant cases, accused must appear even for that.
• Accused gets only one opportunity to cross the prosecution witnesses in summons and more than one opportunity is given in warrant cases.
• Charges on warrant cases might resemble a summons case, though the charges cannot be split into constituents but charges in summons cannot reflect the warrant cases
• Evidence of previous conviction can be recorded after the conclusion of trial in warrant cases but no such power is given to Magistrate in summons cases.
• Trial of a warrant case as a summons case is serious irregularity and the trial is vitiated if the accused has been prejudiced and is illegal but the converse, though is also serious, is curable under s.465.
In addition to these points, when a warrant case is tried as summons case, the acquittal will only amount to discharge and if the converse happens, the discharge of accused will be considered as acquittal. If the mistake of trying a summons case is found at any stage in the trial, the warrant procedures can still be followed. The conversion of a summons case to warrants case can be done if the punishment for the offence would be more than 6 months and in the interest of justice, the Magistrate feels so, as under s.259 but not vice versa i.e, a warrants case cannot be converted into summons.