The section itself declares the object in explicit language that it is “for the purpose of enabling the accused personally to explain any circumstances appearing in the evidence against him”. In Jai Dev v. State of Punjab, AIR 1963 SC 612, Gajendragadkar, J. (as he then was) speaking for a three-Judge Bench has focussed on the ultimate test in determining whether the provision has been fairly complied with. He observed thus:
“The ultimate test in determining whether or not the accused has been fairly examined under Section 342 would be to enquire whether, having regard to all the questions put to him, he did get an opportunity to say what he wanted to say in respect of prosecution case against him. If it appears that the examination of the accused person was defective and thereby a prejudice has been caused to him, that would no doubt be a serious infirmity.”
Thus it is well settled that the provision is mainly intended to benefit the accused and as its corollary to benefit the Court in reaching the final conclusion.
At the same time it should be borne in mind that the provision is not intended to nail him to any position, but to comply with the most salutary principle of natural justice enshrined in the maxim “audi alteram partem”. The word “may” in clause (a) of sub-section (1) in Section 313 of the Code indicates, without any doubt, that even if the Court does not put any question under that clause the accused cannot raise any grievance of it. But if the Court fails to put the needed question under clause (b) of the sub-section it would result in a handicap to the accused and he can legitimately claim that no evidence, without affording him the opportunity to explain, can be used against him. It is now well settled that a circumstance about which the accused was not asked to explain cannot be used against him.
But the situation to be considered now is whether, with the revolutionary change in technology of communication and transmission and the marked improvement in facilities for legal aid in the country, is it necessary that in all cases, the accused must answer, by personally remaining present in Court. We clarify that this is the requirement and would be the general rule. However, if remaining present involves undue hardship and large expense, could the Court not alleviate the difficulties. If the Court holds the view that the situation in which he made such a plea is genuine, should the court say that he has no escape but he must undergo all the tribulations and hardships and answer such questions personally presenting himself in Court. If there are other accused in the same case, and the Court has already completed their questioning, should they too wait for long without their case reaching finality, or without registering further progress of their trial until their co-accused is able to attend the Court personally and answer the Court questions? Why should a criminal Court be rendered helpless in such a situation?
The one category of offences which is specifically exempted from the rigour of Section 313(1)(b) of the Code is “Summons cases”. It must be remembered that every case in which the offence triable is punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years is a “summons case”. Thus, all other offences generally belong to a different category altogether among which are included offences punishable with varying sentences from imprisonment for three years up to imprisonment for life and even right up to death penalty. Hence there are several offences in that category which are far less serious in gravity compared with grave and very grave offences. Even in cases involving less serious offences, cannot the Court extend a helping hand to an accused who is placed in a predicament deserving such a help?
Section 243(1) of the Code enables the accused, who is involved in the trial of warrant case instituted on police report, to put in any written statement. When any such statement is filed the Court is obliged to make it part of the record of the case. Even if such case is not instituted on police report the accused has the same right (vide Section 247). Even the accused involved in offences exclusively triable by the Court of Session can also exercise such a right to put in written statements (Section 233(2) of the Code). It is common knowledge that most of such written statements, if not all, are prepared by the counsel of the accused. If such written statements can be treated as statements directly emanating from the accused, hook, line and sinker, why not the answers given by him in the manner set out hereinafter, in special contingencies, be afforded the same worth.
We think that a pragmatic and humanistic approach is warranted in regard to such special exigencies. The word “shall” in clause (b) to Section 313(1) of the Code is to be interpreted as obligatory on the Court and it should be complied with when it is for the benefit of the accused. But if it works to his great prejudice and disadvantage the Court should, in appropriate cases, e.g., if the accused satisfies the Court that he is unable to reach the venue of the Court, except by bearing huge expenditure or that he is unable to travel the long journey due to physical incapacity or some such other hardship relieve him of such hardship and at the same time adopt a measure to comply with the requirements in Section 313 of the Code in a substantial manner. How this could be achieved?
If the accused (who is already exempted from personally appearing in the Court) makes an application to the Court praying that he may be allowed to answer the questions without making his physical presence in Court on account of justifying exigency the Court can pass appropriate orders thereon, provided such application is accompanied by an affidavit sworn to by the accused himself containing the following matters:(a) A narration of facts to satisfy the Court of his real difficulties to be physically present in Court for giving such answers. (b) An assurance that no prejudice would be caused to him, in any manner, by dispensing with his personal presence during such questioning. (c) An undertaking that he would not raise any grievance on that score at any stage of the case.
If the Court is satisfied of the genuineness of the statements made by the accused in the said application and affidavit it is open to the Court to supply the questionnaire to his advocate (containing the questions which the Court might put to him under Section 313 of the Code) and fix the time within which the same has to be returned duly answered by the accused together with a properly authenticated affidavit that those answers were given by the accused himself. He should affix his signature on all the sheets of the answered quetionnaire. However, if he does not wish to give any answer to any of the questions he is free to indicate that fact at the appropriate place in the questionnaire [as a matter of precaution the Court may keep photocopy or carbon copy of the questionnaire before it is supplied to the accused for answers]. If the accused fails to return the questionnaire duly answered as aforesaid within the time or extended time granted by the Court, he shall forfeit his right to seek personal exemption from Court during such questioning.
Source: AIR 2000 SC 3214 : (2000) 8 SCC 740 : JT 2000 (1) Suppl. SC 422 : (2000) 6 SCALE 697 : (2000) CriLJ SC 4604