Most offences in Indian criminal law were created by Statute and have a statutory maximum penalty. For the purposes of trial, offences were divided into different categories, offences triable by indictment (warrant cases) or offences triable only summarily, or offences triable either way. The most serious offences (eg: murder, rape) are triable only on indictment, at the Sessions Court. A large mass of less serious offences are triable only summarily, in magistrates’ courts. The middle category of offences triable either way and comprises of most burglaries, thefts and frauds.

The trial is the pivotal point of a Criminal case. Sec 190 of the CrPC talks of the conditions that need to be fulfilled before proceedings can be initiated by the Magistrate (it specifically empowers a Magistrate to take cognizance of a case). It is the exclusive power of the Magistrate under Sec 204 of the CrPC to refer or reject a case from entering the stage of trial. ‘Trial’ is the judicial adjudication of a person’s guilt or innocence. Under the CrPC, criminal trials have been categorized into four divisions having different procedures, called Session, warrant, summons and summary trials.

Sec 225-237 deal with warrant cases by a court of Session.

Sec 238-250 deal with warrant cases by magistrates.

Sections 251-259 provides procedure for trial of summons cases by magistrates.

Sections 260-265 make provisions relating to summary trials.

Warrant Case: A warrant case relates to offences punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term exceeding two years. The CrPC provides for two types of procedure for the trial of warrant cases triable by a magistrate, viz., those instituted upon a police report and those instituted upon complaint or on own information of magistrate.

In respect of cases instituted on police report, it provides for the magistrate to discharge the accused upon consideration of the police report and documents sent with it. In respect of the cases instituted otherwise than on police report, the magistrate hears the prosecution and takes the evidence. If there is no case, the accused is discharged. If the accused is not discharged, the magistrate holds regular trial after framing the charge, etc.

Sessions case: In respect of offences punishable with death, life imprisonment or imprisonment for a term exceeding seven years, the trial is conducted in a Sessions court after being committed or forwarded to the court by a magistrate.

Summons case: A summons case consists of all cases relating to offences punishable with imprisonment not exceeding two years. In respect of summons cases, there is no need to frame a charge. The court gives substance of the accusation, which is called “notice”, to the accused when the person appears in pursuance to the summons. The court has the power to convert a summons case into a warrant case, if the magistrate thinks that it is in the interest of justice.

Summary case: The high court may empower magistrates of first class to try certain offences in a summary way. Second class magistrates can summarily try an offence only if punishable only with a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months. In a summary trial, no sentence of imprisonment for a term exceeding three months can be passed in any conviction. The particulars of the summary trial are entered in the record of the court. In every case tried summarily in which the accused does not plead guilty, the magistrate records the substance of the evidence and a judgment containing a brief statement of the reasons for the finding. [1]

Procedure of Magistrate on appearance of accused in warrant case:

In warrant case if the Magistrate finds that the charge against the accused is groundless, he has power to discharge the accused by recording reasons. If the Magistrate has reason to believe that there is ground to proceed further, he then frame charges against accused which is read and explained and thereafter asks accused whether he pleads guilty of offence or not. If the accused pleads guilty, the Magistrate may convict the accused and proceed further to question the accused about quantum of sentence. Thereafter awards sentence. If the accused pleads to be tried, the magistrate proceeds to examine the witnesses of prosecution, hearing of prosecution and examination of accused under Section 313(1)(b) CrPC follows. The accused shall also be called upon to enter defence and produce his witnesses if any.

Procedure of Court of Session:

In case of offence exclusively triable by a court of Session, the Magistrate may take cognizance if such an offence and commit the case to the court of Session for trial. A court of Session cannot directly take cognizance of offence triable by it. On appearance by the accused before Sessions Court, the Judge hears the public prosecutor regarding the case. If the Judge considers that there is no sufficient ground to proceed with, he can discharge the accused, otherwise he proceeds to frame charge and examines the accused about the charge. If the accused pleads guilty the judge convicts the accused and the question quantum of sentence and award sentence by way of judgment. If the accused wishes to be tried the Judge shall fix dates for examination of prosecution witnesses and shall hear prosecution arguments and then call upon accused personally to explain any circumstances against him in evidence. If no case is made-out, the Judge shall record order of acquittal. If the Judge does not think it fit to acquit the accused, he shall thereupon ask the accused to enter on his defence. Accused can also file written statement explaining the circumstances of his involvement in the case. On hearing prosecution and accused, the Judge shall give a judgment. In case the accused is convicted, he shall be heard about quantum of sentence. Thereupon award of sentence follows.

Examination of Court Witnesses:-The court has power to examine any person, at any stage, as court witness in the ends of Justice.

Summons procedure:-In summons case, the accused is issued summons to appear or brought before the Magistrate. Then particulars of offence are stated and if the accused pleads guilty, he is convicted or otherwise trial follows. It shall not be necessary to frame charges in summons case.

Summary and trial procedure:-Summary trial is a short-cut procedure of regular trial. Since risk is involved in short cut procedure, senior and experienced judicial officers are empowered to try certain petty cases. Though some offences under this summary trial procedure involved are warrant cases, but the involvement of punishment in summary trial being only three months imprisonment, summons case procedure is followed at the trial. In this summary trial, the Magistrate shall record substance if evidence and a judgment of brief statement of reasons for the finding follows if the accused does not plead guilty. [2]


The purpose of these guidelines is to help magistrates decide whether or not to commit ‘either way’ offences for trial in the Sessions Court. Their object us to provide guidance not direction. They are not meant to impinge upon a magistrate’s duty to consider each case individually and on its own particular facts. These guidelines apply to all defendants aged 18 and above.

General Mode of Trial Considerations:

When deciding whether a case is better triable as a Sessions case or a warrant case, a magistrate must keep in mind the following considerations: a) the nature of the case, b) whether the circumstances make the offence one of a serious character, c) whether the punishment which a magistrate’s court would have the power to inflict for it would be adequate, d) any other circumstances which appear to the court to make it suitable for the offence to be tried in one way rather than the other, e) any representations made by the prosecution or the defence.

Some more observations: a) the court should never make its decision only on the grounds of convenience or expedition, b) the court should assume for the purposes of deciding the mode of trial that the prosecution version of the facts is correct, c) where cases involve complex questions of fact or difficult questions of law, including difficult issues of disclosure of sensitive material he court should consider committal for trial, e) in general, except where otherwise stated, either-way offences should be tried summarily.

Problems and Suggested Reforms in Trial Procedure

In cases of conviction, the sentence that may be passed is limited by (a) the procedure adopted for purposes of trial: and (b) the limits placed by S.29 Cr.P.C. on different classes of Magistrates. If the case is tried by the Chief Judicial Magistrate (or the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate), the upper limit of sentencing would be any sentence authorized by law, “except a sentence of imprisonment for life or of imprisonment for a term exceeding seven years”. A Magistrate of the First Class (or a Metropolitan Magistrate) may pass a sentence of imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or of fine not exceeding Rs.5000 or of both. [3]

The procedure for recording evidence varies according to the form of trial. Section 274 Cr.P.C., prescribes that in summons cases and inquiries, “the Magistrate shall, as the examination of each witness proceeds, make a memorandum of the substance of the evidence in the language of the Court”. The proviso enables the Magistrate to cause such memorandum to be made in writing or from his dictation in open Court” where the Magistrate is unable to make such memorandum himself and records reasons for his inability.

S.376 (d)., provides that no appeal from a convicted person shall lie when a sentence of fine only is passed not exceeding Rs.200/- in a case tried summarily by the Magistrate empowered under section 260.

S.260 and 355 are either unutilized or under-utilized.

Only those Magistrates (Other than CJMs and MMs) who are duly empowered, either by name, or by virtue of office, or under the statute creating the offence can try the cases summarily. But most of the Magistrates are not empowered. This is one among the many reasons why summary procedures is not fully utilized. As the Judge of the same status can deal with the case summarily when he is posted as a metropolitan Judge without any empowerment there is no reason why such empowerment is needed for other magistrates to deal with the cases summarily under Section 262 of the Code

The Law Commission has in its 154th report also recommended enhancement of the limit of Sentence prescribed in Section 262 of the Code to three years. It has also recommended some incidental amendments to Sections 2(x) and 2(w). The researcher feels that Section 2(x) defining ‘warrant case’ be amended by substituting the word ‘three’ for the word ‘two’. Consequently all cases which are not warrant cases, relating to offences punishable with imprisonment lower than three years shall become Summons cases which shall be tried by following the summary procedure prescribed in Chapter XXI of the Code.

Large number of cases which do not involve serious offences can be disposed of expeditiously. As the Magistrate has power under S. 260(2) to try the case regularly if he feels that it is desirable to do so in the interest of justice no prejudice would be caused.

However, the researcher is of the opinion that proper training should be given to all the Magistrates about trying the cases following the summary procedure. The training should include mock trails and writing of judgments in summary trials by the trainees.