Sessions Court in India

India’s substantive criminal law comprises the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), and other penal acts. However, it is unable to work alone. The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1861, was enacted as a follow-up to the IPC. A new Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) was adopted in 1974 to replace the 1861 Code and administer and enforce substantive criminal law.

The CrPC also governs the system for investigating and prosecuting crimes. Under the CrPC, criminal trials are divided between session trials and magistrate trials. In this law note, you will understand all about Sessions Court and its functions.

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What Is a Sessions Court?

A Sessions Court is the highest criminal court in a district and the court of first instance for serious offences, those punishable with more than seven years of imprisonment, life imprisonment, or death. The state government is given the authority to create a Session Court for each session division under section 9 of the CrPC.

In the hierarchy of courts in India, the Supreme Court is placed at the top, then comes the High Courts, and Session Courts (and Metropolitan Courts) are the courts below the High Courts.

The High Court chooses the Session Court judge. The High Court may also appoint additional session judges and assistant session judges to serve in Session Courts.

This court handles theft, murder, dacoity, and other connected matters. The court has the authority to sentence a criminal offender to death and to pay a fine.

The High Court may appoint the sessions judge of one division to serve as an additional sessions judge of another division. The High Court has the authority to make arrangements for handling urgent cases when the position of session judge becomes empty for one cause or another.

If a case is pending before the Sessions Court, the additional or assistant sessions judge will have the authority to handle it. If no additional or assistant sessions judge is available, the Chief Judicial Magistrate in the sessions division will have the authority to handle the application.

Functions of a Sessions Court

1. When an accused enters a guilty or not guilty plea, the trial before a Sessions Court starts, and the judge follows the steps outlined in section 231 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The public prosecutor (PP) presents the case during the first hearing in a Sessions Court by outlining the allegations made against the defendant.

2. The Sessions Court judge has the following options after hearing the submission and evidence from both sides:

  • Whether to release the defendant if appropriate justification isn’t provided (section 277), or
  • If there is enough evidence to believe that the accused committed a crime that can only be tried in a Sessions Court, then the charges can be framed under section 228 (1)(b).
  • If the case falls within the jurisdiction of Sessions Court, the court will frame the charges and explain the charges along with the relevant purpose to the defendant. Moreover, the defendant’s statement is also recorded.

3. According to section 228 (1)(a) of CrPC, the Sessions Court judge may decide to transfer the case to the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) if he or she believes that the offence that has been brought against the named accused is not solely appropriate for trial in the Sessions Court.

4. However, if the accused enters a guilty plea, the Session Court judge may find him guilty. If not, a date might be set for the hearing of the prosecution’s evidence.

5. In the case of Narain Singh vs the State of UP 2010 Cr LJ (NOC) 435 (ALL), it was observed that when hearing testimony, a Sessions Court judge may also order witnesses to appear if the prosecution requests it. In a Session Court, only the prosecution’s evidence is considered while drafting charges. It is impossible to dig into the probative value.

6. In the case of Satish Nanaji Dhote vs State of Maharashtra 2009 CrLJ (NOC) 871 (Bom), it was held that scrutiny of the evidence and material on record is not necessary for framing charges. It is sufficient to construct accusations if there is a strong suspicion against the accused.

Trial Procedure Before the Sessions Court

Only the public prosecutor is authorised to file a case in a Session Court according to section 225 of CrPC.

  • Section 226 of CrPC states that the prosecutor must make his case by detailing the accusation against the accused and the evidence he intends to use to demonstrate the accused’s guilt when an accused person is brought into court as a consequence of a case being committed under section 209 of CrPC.
  • In accordance with section 227 of CrPC, if the judge determines that there is no basis for continuing after considering the case records, the provided documents, and the oral arguments of the accused and the prosecution, he will release the accused.
  • If the court determines that there is cause to suspect that the offence is committed by an individual that violates section 228 of CrPC:
    • In that scenario, he may establish a charge, transfer the matter to the CJM/JM (first class), and direct the accused to appear before the CJM/JM (first class). This magistrate will handle the criminal trial as a warrant case that was initiated based on a police report.
    • Can be tried in Session Court: He will make up the accusation.
    • Before being asked to enter the plea, the accused will be informed about the charges with an explanation as per section 228(1)(2) of CrPC.
  • As per section 230 of CrPC, the judge will set a date for the examination of witnesses and may, at the prosecution’s request, issue a summons requiring their attendance if the accused does not enter a plea of guilty or refuses to do so, asserts his or her right to a trial, or is not found guilty under section 229 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Conclusion

With a few minor exceptions, the foundation for district and Sessions Court is primarily the same across the country. They deal with both civil and criminal proceedings in accordance with their distinct authorities.

The civil and criminal justice systems are separated at the most fundamental level.

The laws related to the court of sessions are followed only in a few significant cases. This suggests a very sensible legal approach that the Session Courts have jurisdiction over cases involving harsh punishment that are required to be decided by a senior and experienced court.

Anushka Saxena
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