Vijendra Singh Sikarwar V/S The State Of Madhya Pradesh [MISC. CRIMINAL CASE No. 24900 of 2023]
The Madhya Pradesh High Court has directed the police to create a WhatsApp group for each criminal trial to ensure the presence of witnesses before trial courts.
The bench of Justice Anand Pathak noted that beside protection of witnesses of said crime number, this WhatsApp Group would facilitate early intimation of dates to the witnesses fixed before the Trial Court.
The petitioner is the informant/complainant/victim in which at his behest, an FIR has been lodged because of the murder of his son Raghvendra, in which on the basis of his information, case was registered under Sections 147, 148, 149, 302, 394 of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 11, 13 of the M.P. Dakaiti Aur Vyapharan Prabhavit Kshetra Adhiniyam, 1981 (MPDVPK Act).
The petitioner contended that only the formal witnesses are left to depose before the learned Trial Court, in which police witnesses including Investigating Officer are not turning up for deposition on summons, therefore, the Trial Court was compelled to issue bailable warrants and in certain situations, even arrest warrants are issued for securing the presence of police/formal witnesses.
Right to Speedy Trial and Access of Justice is one of the fundamental rights of the petitioner as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution. The right to speedy trial extends equally to all criminal prosecutions and is not confined to any particular category of cases. When delay is not caused at the instance of informant/complainant party, it is all the more important the trial be conducted in a time bound manner because already more than four and half years have been spent.
Some of the accused persons meanwhile intimidated the witnesses for which appropriate proceedings were undertaken for cancellation of bail.
The state contended that some delay was caused in the trial because of non-appearance of witnesses. A system deserves to be created for effective service of summons over the witnesses in a criminal trial. Sometimes, officers who were part of investigation, are transferred to some other places and therefore, service of summons consumes time and sometimes, some other witnesses change their residence or move out in other city, therefore, its becomes difficult for police to search them and serve them with summons. However; he undertakes that in the present case, the police authorities shall ensure service of summons at the earliest.
SUGGESTIONS BY THE COURT
The court gave the following suggestion:
- Every police station, specially Investigating Officers must create a “WhatsApp” Group of every crime number unfolding heinous offences consisting of Investigating Officer, Complainant/Informant, Court Munshi, concerned Court Clerk, Prosecution Officer at the initial stage. This can be the First Phase of membership of said WhatsApp Group which would be in respect of the crime number under which heinous offence is under investigation. Therefore, that crime number would be the name of the WhatsApp Group. Court Munshi or Investigating Officer as the case may be can act as Admn. (Administrator) of the said WhatsApp Group. This group would be created only for the purpose of the service of summons, any other information related to that particular case and to protect the complainant and witnesses from the wrath of mischievous accused persons. Information sent over the group and privacy of the data would be maintained by all the members of the group.
- It would serve two purposes. Firstly, service of summons and other related information would be immediately passed to the complainant/witnesses/other members and another benefit would be that in case of any threat or intimidation by accused persons to the complainant or witnesses (specially vulnerable witnesses), then those witnesses may immediately inform the Investigating Officer to take appropriate action against accused person or mischievous element. Secondly, their Secondary Victimization would be controlled by this approach.
- In the second phase witnesses who gave statements under Section 161 of the Cr.P.C. and witnesses related to seizure memos, officers related to medical examination, public witnesses and other forensic officers and concerned police officers and other remaining witnesses can be incorporated. Through this mechanism all witnesses can be informed well in advance about the date of appearance in the learned Trial Court. Court Clerk or Court Munshi can post the summons on WhatsApp group beside serving in person in usual mode and therefore, all witnesses would have information about their appearance in the learned Trial Court well in advance. By this way they can change their programme or amend it
- In Third Phase: if many witnesses of same family are available then female witnesses may be dispensed with and only male members can be incorporated.
- In Fourth Phase: suitable precautions can be undertaken in respect of matters pertaining to POCSO Act or related to Juvenile Justice Act. Prosecutrix or Child in Need of Care and Protection should not be incorporated and in their place, their parents or guardian can be incorporated.
- If required, then Admn. of the WhatsApp group can add all witnesses or related persons as mentioned in Clause (i) to (iv) at the very beginning also, if Admn. desires so. It is discretion of concerned Admn./Investigating Officer of the case.
“These suggestions are only illustrative and not exhaustive. Any good suggestion as contemplated by the police officers can also be incorporated, provided it helps in seamless conclusion of trial while maintaining the privacy and identity of the witnesses,” the court clarified.