The use of the term “assist” in the proviso to Section 24(8) is crucial, and implies that the victim’s counsel is only intended to have a secondary role qua the Public Prosecutor. This is supported by the fact that the original Amendment Bill to the CrPC had used the words “coordinate with the prosecution”. However, a change was later proposed and in the finally adopted
impact the safeguards put in place for the accused in criminal trials. These lapses may be aggravated by a lack of advocacy experience on the part of the victim’s counsel. In contrast, such dangers would not arise in the case of a Public Prosecutor, who is required to have considerable experience in the practice of law, and act as an independent officer of the Court. Thus, it is important to appreciate why the role of a victim’s counsel is made subject to the instructions of the Public Prosecutor, who occupies a prime position by virtue of the increased responsibilities shouldered by him with respect to the conduct of a criminal trial. 12.3 At the same time, the realities of criminal prosecutions, as they are conducted today, cannot be ignored. There is no denying that Public Prosecutors are often overworked. In certain places, there may be a single Public Prosecutor conducting trials in over 23 courts. Thus, the possibility of them missing out on certain aspects of the case cannot be ignored or discounted. A victimcentric approach that allows for greater participation of the victim in the conduct of the trial can go a long way in plugging such gaps. To this extent, we agree with the submission made by the learned Senior Counsel for the Appellant that the introduction of the proviso to Section 24(8) acts as a safety valve, version, the words “coordinate with” were substituted by “assist”. This change is reflective of an intention to only assign a supportive role to the victim’s counsel, which would also be in consonance with the limited role envisaged for pleaders instructed by private persons under Section 301(2). In our considered opinion, a mandate that allows the victim’s counsel to make oral arguments and crossexamine witnesses goes beyond a mere assistive role, and constitutes a parallel prosecution proceeding by itself. Given the primacy accorded to the Public Prosecutor in conducting a trial, as evident from Section 225 and Section 301(2), permitting such a free hand would go against the scheme envisaged under the CrPC.
12.2 In some instances, such a wide array of functions may also have adverse consequences on the fairness of a trial. For instance, there may be a case where the Public Prosecutor may make a strategic call to examine some witnesses and leave out others. If the victim’s counsel insists upon examining any of the left out witnesses, it is possible that the evidence so brought forth may weaken the prosecution case. If given a free hand, in some instances, the trial may even end up becoming a vindictive battle between the victim’s counsel and the accused, which may further
inasmuch as the victim’s counsel can make up for any oversights or deficiencies in the prosecution case. Further, to ensure that the right of appeal accorded to a victim under the proviso to Section 372 of the Cr.P.C. is not rendered meaningless due to the errors of the Public Prosecutor at the trial stage itself, we find that some significant role should be given to the victim’s counsel while assisting the prosecution. However, while doing so, the balance inherent in the scheme of the CrPC should not be tampered with, and the prime role accorded to the Public Prosecutor should not be diluted.
12.4 In this regard, given that the modalities of each case are different, we find that the extent of assistance and the manner of giving it would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. Though we cannot detail and discuss all possible scenarios that may arise during a criminal prosecution, we find that a victim’s counsel should ordinarily not be given the right to make oral arguments or examine and crossexamine witnesses. As stated in Section 301(2), the private party’s pleader is subject to the directions of the Public Prosecutor. In our considered opinion, the same principle should apply to the victim’s counsel under the proviso to Section 24(8), as it adequately ensures that
the interests of the victim are represented. If the victim’s counsel feels that a certain aspect has gone unaddressed in the examination of the witnesses or the arguments advanced by the Public Prosecutor, he may route any questions or points through the Public Prosecutor himself. This would not only preserve the paramount position of the Public Prosecutor under the scheme of the CrPC, but also ensure that there is no inconsistency between the case advanced by the Public Prosecutor and the victim’s counsel.
12.5 However, even if there is a situation where the Public Prosecutor fails to highlight some issue of importance despite it having been suggested by the victim’s counsel, the victim’s counsel may still not be given the unbridled mantle of making oral arguments or examining witnesses. This is because in such cases, he still has a recourse by channelling his questions or arguments through the Judge first. For instance, if the victim’s counsel finds that the Public Prosecutor has not examined a witness properly and not incorporated his suggestions either, he may bring certain questions to the notice of the Court. If the Judge finds merit in them, he may take action accordingly by invoking his powers under Section 311 of the CrPC or Section
165 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. In this regard, we agree with the observations made by the Tripura High Court in Smt. Uma Saha v. State of Tripura (supra) that the victim’s counsel has a limited right of assisting the prosecution, which may extend to suggesting questions to the Court or the prosecution, but not putting them by himself.
Reffed Judgments : Citation:
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1727 OF 2019 [Arising out of SLP (Crl.) No. 7848 of 2019]