Section 2 (b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereinafter, ‘CrPC’) defines ‘charge’ in an inclusive manner. According to this provision, the charge includes any head of the charge when there are more heads than one.
The definition in CrPC is very vague and beyond the comprehension of a layman. Before defining charge in simple terms, it is vital to decode this definition and understand what CrPC wants to say about the definition of charge.
A person can commit several offences by his one single act. For instance, A stole all the jewellery in B’s house by keeping the inmates at gunpoint. Here, A has committed house-trespass, theft, theft in a dwelling house, illegal possession of arms, assault and so on and so forth. Thus, when a criminal prosecution initiates, the Magistrate charges the accused and informs him of the number of offences that have been alleged against him.
All these offences are called heads of charge and all of them individually and together are known as ‘charge’. This is contemplated by Section 2(b) of the CrPC.
There is a difference between a definition and a meaning. The definition is the specific words used by an authority to explain a term or phrase whereas meaning is the explanation if that definition in simple and lucid terms.
The definition has already been stated in the aforementioned paragraph. The term charge, in criminal law, basically means the allegations or offences that have been hurled on the person. Thus, if A is accused of theft, the charge is theft. Hence, the charge is a formal recognition granted to the act of the accused person by a Magistrate to allow the person to have knowledge about his act.
The main object of charge was highlighted by Faizalali J. in V.C. Shukla v. State. His Lordship observed that the purpose of the charge is to give the precise and exact knowledge to the accused of the offence that he has been charged with to allow him an opportunity to prepare for his defence.
The general practice and basic rule are that charge must be specific and not elongated. This allows the accused to prepare his defence on the specific charge. Moreover, charge also allows the Prosecutor to prepare its case and the evidence to commence the prosecution.
Every offence puts upon the prosecutor a very different burden to prove its case before the court. Though in common parlance, we say that the prosecutor has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the offences charged with.
In practice, the weight of this burden changes from offence to offence. Offences which are punishable with severe sentences such as imprisonment for 7 years or more levy a greater burden on the prosecution than an offence punishable with 3 years’ incarceration. Therefore, it is essential that all the heads of charges are specifically and more fully described to allow the prosecutor to analyze the amount of evidence that would be essential to obtain a conviction.
Form of Charge
Charge is not a form but the charge that is levied against the accused is mentioned in the charge-sheet which is the form of charge. The charge-sheet is a general term used for the Final Report that the investigating authority (usually Police) is required to submit under Section 173 of the CrPC.
The charge-sheet contains the offences which the police suspect the accused to have committed on the basis of the evidence that can be found during the course of an investigation. However, the actual charges are those and actual charge-sheet is the one where the Magistrate puts a charge on the accused.
After the accused person is arrested, the police investigate the matter and try to arraign evidence that can be gathered. If after collecting the evidence, the police has reason to believe that the arrested person is the accused, a final report is prepared which contains the charges and evidence. The accused with the final report is produced before the Judicial Magistrate.
The Magistrate, after inquiry, informs the accused of the offences that he is charged with and mentions them on a separate sheet which is the charge-sheet. This charge-sheet is the form of charge which is Form No. 32 provided for in the second schedule of the CrPC.
Contents of a Charge-sheet
As aforementioned, the Magistrate prepares the charge-sheet of the offences with which the accused person is charged. Now, the question that arises is what should such form or charge-sheet contain. Section 211 of the CrPC enlists the essentials of a charge. Further, Section 212 and 213 provide for additional information which is to be stated in the charge-sheet under certain special circumstances.
The contents of a charge which are must are as follows:
- The title of the offence with which the accused is charged. For instance, if the act is of stealing, the exact title as used in Indian Penal Code must be stated, i.e. “theft”.
- After the title of the offence, the offence must be described by explaining the act that constitutes the offence. For instance, the offence is “theft” committed by stealing the properties of ‘A’.
- The charge-sheet must define and explain the elements of the offence with which the accused is charged with. Every offence has been defined the IPC or other relevant laws and there are certain essential ingredients to be proved. The charge-sheet must mention them. For instance, for the offence of theft elements are, ‘taking property out of the possession of its lawful owner’ and ‘with a dishonest intention’.
- Then the Magistrate must remember that the accused is a layman and may not be acquainted with the law and provisions of law. Hence, the charge must contain the name of the law and the relevant provision number.
- Next, are the substantive requirements that need to be conformed to. It means if there are any exceptions to the elements mentioned before or any defence is allowed to the accused. For instance, if the property is taken out of the possession of its lawful owner to protect it from damage, it is not theft.
- The Magistrate shall make a note to the effect that all the essential requirements of the offence were fulfilled in the case by the acts if the accused person(s). The Magistrate shall further explain the facts under what the elements have been fulfilled. For instance, at the time of the offence, ‘A’ was seen by B’s neighbour entering B’s house proves that A was at the place of crime.
- The charge shall also be accompanied by an averment stating any prior conviction or any recidivism that the accused is liable because of which he is entitled to severe punishment. This enables the trial court to proceed with the trial quickly and easily.
- The charge should also contain the particulars, i.e. details of the time when and the place where the offence is alleged to be committed. In a criminal trial time and place are extremely momentous. If the accused person can show his presence at a different place at the same time, he can successfully claim the plea of alibi. Hence, time and place are essential.
- Further, the person or the thing against which the offence is alleged to be committed by the accused shall also be included. Detail of the person affected assists in establishing the identity of the accused and any motive for the commission of an offence.
- In case the offence charged is in the nature of misappropriation or criminal breach of trust or any offence where the actual amount of money lost cannot be ascertained, a gross or approximate amount of loss will satisfy the requirement.
- Lastly, if even after specifying all the above ingredients, the Magistrate feels that the offence is of such a nature that the accused may not be able to understand the charges, he may as he deems necessary to explain the offence in his terms so as to give full and accurate knowledge to the accused about the offence.
Errors in Charge and its Effect
When any of the particular is not mentioned or not sufficiently mentioned in the charge-sheet, this causes an error in the charge. However, Section 215 states that any error in the charge shall not vitiate the trial or affect the proceeding in any manner.
In Tulsi Ram and ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh, under para 12, the court was thinking about these parts of the issue and clarified that a grumbling about the charge was never raised at any prior stage and the Hon’ble Judges arrived at the resolution that the charge was completely comprehended by the appellants all things considered and they never griped at the suitable stage that they were confounded or baffled by the charge. The tragic thing is valid here. Consequently, the Court wouldn’t acknowledge any complaint identifying with a mistake in the confining of the charge.
- N. Chandrasekharan Pillai, R.V. Kelkar’s Criminal Procedure (6th ed. 2014).
- Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, Commentary on the Code of Criminal Procedure (18th ed. 2006).
 V.C. Shukla v. State, AIR 1980 SC 962.
 Tulsi Ram and Ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1954 SC 194.