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Criminal Law


The powers of revision serve to provide an important avenue to an accused or the prosecution seeking to remedy any patent defect in the finding of a trial court through different stages of a criminal trial. However, a key stakeholder in a criminal trial, as has been recognized by the Supreme Court of India, from time to time is also the complainant,[1] who may also be the victim of the alleged criminal act. It would, therefore, not be out of place to assess the role that a complainant/informant plays in revisionary proceedings before a superior court. It is this aspect that forms the subject matter of the present blog. In an effort to situate the role of a complainant in criminal revision proceedings, in the following segments, we discuss: (i) the scope and powers of a revision court; (ii) the locus standi of a complainant/informant; (iii) the circumstances whereunder a complainant/informant is permitted to intervene in revision proceedings and the extent of such intervention and (iv) nuances surrounding  a revision application which has already been preferred by the State.

Exploring the Limits: Scope and Powers of a Revision Court

The origins of the power of revision, which is typically conferred on the superior courts in criminal trial proceedings, can be traced to British common law traditions. In essence, the power of revision accords a superior court, the prerogative to scrutinise and review the decisions made by a lower court at any stage of a trial and rectify errors or irregularities in conformity with the cannons of natural justice and equitable treatment among other grounds.

The power of revision was first conferred on the High Courts by the Indian High Courts Act, 1861 (“High Courts Act”), which established the High Courts in India. Under Section 15 of the High Courts Act, the High Courts were given the power to call for the records of any case that had been decided by a subordinate court and to pass orders as necessary. Similarly, at present, under Section 397 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (“CrPC”), the High Court and Court of Session inter- alia have the power to call for and examine the records of any proceeding in order to satisfy itself as to the correctness, legality or propriety of any finding, sentence or order recorded or passed as well as the regularity of any proceeding of an inferior court. The revisionary powers of the High Court can be sourced to Section 401 of the CrPC whereunder the High Court has the discretionary power to inter alia (a) reverse/alter a finding by a lower court; (b) order a retrial; (c) suspend the execution of a lower court’s order; (d) issue a warrant of arrest, and; (e) direct the recording of additional evidence. However, typically, no decision can be made against an accused unless they have been given the opportunity to be heard and present their defence either personally or by their pleader. Additionally, the High Court is restrained from changing a finding of acquittal to a finding of conviction while exercising its revisionary powers.

A revision court, therefore, has a limited mandate of only evaluating the prima facie legality, correctness, or the propriety of the orders, findings and/or sentences of a lower court in accordance with the established rules of criminal jurisprudence. This flows from the objective behind the enactment of provisions dealing with revisional jurisdiction wherein the restricted aim is to correct a patent defect or an error of jurisdiction or law.[2] Therefore, such jurisdiction cannot be exercised in a routine manner by the higher courts and can be only invoked in specific instances wherein the decisions under challenge are inter-alia grossly erroneous, there is no compliance with the provisions of law, the finding recorded is based on no evidence, material evidence is ignored or judicial discretion is exercised arbitrarily or perversely.[3]In the past, exercise of original powers of trial court by a revision court by way of re-appreciation of evidence has been disapproved by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.[4] Therefore, the revision court ought not interfere by entering into merits and forming opinion by reappreciating evidence as it would not be proper.

Beyond the Parties: Locus standi of the Complainant/Informant

Traditionally, the complainant/informant does not have the locus standi i.e., right to bring in action or to be heard in criminal cases.[5] The reason for this is that the criminal procedure has established rules and procedures that painstakingly outline the manner and method of investigation, lay down requirement for the person competent to investigate the offence, acknowledge the court competent to take cognizance and other related matters. The State in such cases (barring certain offences such as matrimonial offenses, etc.) becomes the aggrieved party and the role of the complainant/informant ceases once the cognizance is taken. Therefore, the complainant being a private party would have no role to play in a case instituted by the State.[6]

However , it is clarified that since High Court can take action of its own accord and exercise its powers of revision suo moto, there is no express bar on a third party or a private party from bringing the attention of the court towards such illegality, perversity or impropriety, which begets intervention by the High Court.[7] Nevertheless, when a revision petition has already been preferred by the State, the complainant would have no locus standi as their interests would be assumed to have been safeguarded by the State.[8]

The Balancing Act- Limited Circumstances under which Complainant/Informant is Permitted to Intervene and the Extent of such Intervention

The Supreme Court in the recent case of Honnaiah T.H v. State of Karnataka[9] has held that revisional jurisdiction can be exercised by the complainant before the High Court. In the instant case, the statement of the informant, who was also the de facto complainant and an injured victim, was not marked as an exhibit, which thereafter affected the substantive course of the prosecution. The Supreme Court relied on and reinforced the principles enunciated in the matter of Sheetala Prasad v Sri Kant[10] and ruled that revisional jurisdiction can be exercised by complainant before the High Court in the following non-exhaustive instances-

  1. Where the trial court wrongly shut out evidence, which the prosecution wished to produce;
  2. Where the admissible evidence was wrongly brushed aside as inadmissible;
  3. Where the trial court had no jurisdiction to try the case and acquitted the accused;
  4. Where the material evidence had been overlooked either by the trial or the appellate court or the order was passed by considering irrelevant evidence; and
  5. Where the acquittal was based on the compounding of an offence, which was invalid under the law.

Therefore, it follows that the High Court may well entertain a revision petition by a complainant/informant only if it comes to the conclusion that the trial court had committed a legal/jurisdictional error or wrongly appreciated or refused to appreciate the evidence. The principles laid down in Sheetala Prasad (supra) have also been relied upon and upheld in the latter case of Menoka Malik v. State of West Bengal[11], wherein the trial court had overlooked material evidence and it was held that a revision petition filed by the first informant before the High Court was maintainable. Interestingly, it has also come to the fore that the courts are increasingly becoming mindful of the complainants’ rights whilst exercising revisional jurisdiction, especially where such complainant has suffered as a victim of a heinous crime. [12]

Nuances surrounding a Revision Application which has been preferred by the State

It is one of the basic tenets of criminal adjudication that a complainant’s right to be heard ceases once cognizance is taken as it recedes to the position of a third party. The complainant cannot thereafter continue to participate in the criminal proceedings as if they were the aggrieved party.[13] This principle can be traced back to the landmark judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Thakur Ram v. State of Bihar[14], which held that “barring a few exceptions in criminal matters, the party who is treated as the aggrieved party is the State which is the custodian of the social interests of the community at large and so it is for the State to take all the steps necessary for bringing the person who has acted against the social interests of the community to book.”

Therefore, in a criminal case where a revision has already been preferred by the State, the complainant would have no locus standi as his/her interests have already been safeguarded by the State. While there is a judicial consensus on this, the Delhi High Court has elucidated in the case of Vipul Gupta and S.P Gupta v. State and Another[15] that  at best, the complainant may be a witness to the proceedings. The court in this case held that if the complainant is allowed to participate before the Session’s court, it would change the entire nature of the proceedings from criminal to civil and hamper the independence of prosecution. The complainant can, therefore, assist the prosecution, if such a call is independently taken by the prosecution itself. This position has also been echoed by the Karnataka High Court in the Kerela Transport case[16], which while holding that the original petitioner being the informer had no locus standi to pursue the revision petition, also opined that “criminal law cannot be used as an instrument of wrecking private vengeance by an aggrieved party against the person who according to that party, had caused injury to it.”

Conclusion- Strengthening or Undermining the Justice System?

The power of revision is an extraordinary power that is intended to be used sparingly. The superior court, in exercise of its revisional powers is expected to act as a sentinel of justice and ensure that the subordinate courts are following the law and not committing any grave errors or miscarriages of justice. The original complainant/informant has many other efficacious and correct ways of being involved at the revision stage of criminal proceedings to ensure the ends of justice. As recognised in the landmark case of A.K Subbaiah[17], such complainant can inter-alia choose to be prosecution witnesses and can assist the prosecution, but whether they can be made parties to the revision proceedings themselves when the State has already preferred a revision petition, is a doubtful proposition. This is owing to the basic principles of criminal adjudication that the prosecution of criminal proceedings is the primary responsibility of the State and that the State stands in the place of a complainant/informant in such cases.

The corpus of jurisprudence on the issue makes it clear that only under certain special circumstances, the complainant/informant can intervene as a safeguard to ensure the ends of justice, and such intervention cannot be a matter of routine. Therefore, it can be concluded that the complainant/informant may not have a strong case to be heard at the stage of revision. 

[1] Jagjeet Singh and Ors. v. Ashish Mishra and Ors, 2022 SCC Online SC 453

[2] Amit Kapoor Vs. Ramesh Chander, (2012) 9 SCC 460

[3] Ibid

[4] Ashish Chadha v. Asha Kumari and Anr., AIR 2012 SC 431

[5] A.R. Antulay vs. Ramdass Srinivas Nayak & Anr., 1984 (2) SCC 5

[6] P.V Narasimharao v. State, 1997 DLT 67 567

[7] Honnaiah T.H. (s) v. State of Karnataka And Others (s), 2022 SCC Online SC 1001

[8] This is a settled position in law and has been upheld in a catena of judgements namely Thakur Ram v. State of Bihar, AIR 1966 SC 911; Kerala Transport Co. v. D.S. Soma Shekar, 1982 CrLJ 1065, and Amichand Ahir v. Krishna Kumar, 1997 CrLJ 1416 (Raj).

[9] Honnaiah T.H. (s) v. State of Karnataka And Others (s), 2022 SCC Online SC 1001

[10] (2010) 2 SCC 190

[11](2019) 18 SCC 721

[12] Jagjeet Singh And Others (s) v. Ashish Mishra Alias Monu and Anr, 2022 SCC Online SC 453

[13] L.K Jain & Anr. v. State, 2001 Cri LJ  259

[14] AIR 1966 SC 911

[15] 2022 1 RCR Cri 675

[16] Kerala Transport Co. v. D.S. Soma Shekar and others, 1982 Cri LJ 1065

[17] A.K Subbaiah & Ors. v.  State of Karnataka, 1987 4 SCC 557