Trial by Jury in India was one of the indications of the Western Innovations. The earliest form of justice mechanism known to the Indian community was Panchayat wherein a sarpanch presides over the disputes and other panch participate in the decision making process. These people were chosen from the caste, tribe, trade or locality to which the parties belonged. The jury trial, which was introduced for the first time, was partial, unjust and decided by an English Jury. At first the British accepted the criminal law of the country as they found it. However, later, Lord Bryce stated that it was inevitable that the English should take criminal justice into their own hands and also they should alter the Penal law in conformity with their own ideology.
Jury Trial in India
The Trial by Jury of capital crimes committed by the Company’s servant was enacted by an Ordinance of James I dated 1623/4, and jury trial became the rule for criminal trials on the original side by the Supreme Court in Calcutta. After the transfer of power from the East India Company to the Crown, jury trials were established tentatively in the Sessions Courts under the Criminal Procedure Code of 1861. The Code of 1861 provided no appeal from a conviction except on a question of law, and no appeal against an acquittal.
A new Criminal Procedure Code came into effect in 1872 which repealed the Act of 1861 and introduced the following main alterations in the procedure:
a) The minimum number of jurors in session’s trials were reduced to three.
b) It was enacted that if the court disagrees with the verdict of the jurors or of a majority of the jurors, and considers it necessary for the end of justice, it may submit the case to the High Court.
c) The local government may direct an appeal from an order of acquittal.
Thus, the courts in India have always been reluctant to go the full length to disregard the jury’s finding altogether when the trial judge has disagreed with the verdict and referred the case. Such an interference with the verdict can only be done only when the judges are certain that the verdict is wrong.
Act X of 1882 fixed the number of jurors in the High Court at nine and retained a minimum of three for Sessions Court. However, the 1898 Act laid down the number of jurors at nine for the High Court and nine in a Sessions Court.
The preponderance of opinion is in favour of the view that on a reference the High Court should not reverse the verdict of the jury unless it is in some way perverse or unreasonable.
On the other hand, another school of thought, relying more strictly on the letter of the law, have held that that the High Court can review the whole case and substitute their own opinion for that of the jury.
The first law commission of Independent India was setup in 1955 and was given the task of suggesting comprehensive reforms to judicial administration in the country including measures to be taken to secure improvements and efficient working of efficient working of the jury system. The law commission carried out an in-depth examination of the various pros and cons of the past functioning of the jury system in India, its merits and demerits, recorded evidence and submitted a comprehensive report i.e. 14th report of the Law Commission. The problems listed by the report were briefly:
- Not adopted over a large part of the country
- Application restricted to certain class of offences.
- Constitution did not provide for the same
Thus, the findings of the 1958 law committee report clearly stated and recommended that jury system was a failure and should be abolished.
Jury Decisions Overturned by Judges in India: Abolishment of Jury Trial
In the case of Sheo Swarup and others v. The King Emperor , the Privy Council held that there should be no limitation placed on the power of the High Court, unless it be found expressly stated in the Code, and there is nothing to prevent the application of the same principles to appeals from an acquittal by a jury.
In Abdul Rahim v. The King Emperor, the Board had to consider whether the High Court was empowered:
1) When it is found that inadmissible evidence has been admitted in a jury trial
2) When it is found that there have been serious instances of misdirection and non- direction of a jury.
In deciding both these questions, the Board referred to Section 537 of the CrPC and Section 167 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872, which operate to restrain appellate courts from interference either on the ground of misdirection or of improper evidence unless it has occasioned a miscarriage of justice.
In Ramanugrah Singh v The King Emperor, the Board referred to Section 307 of the Criminal Procedure Code which states two conditions:
1) The judge must disagree with the verdict of the jury calls for no comment since it is obviously the foundation for any reference.
2) The judge must be ‘clearly of the opinion that it is necessary for the ends of justice to submit the case’
The Nanavati case, is a famous jury trial which was overturned by the Bombay High Court. One day Nanavati returned home and found his wife aloof. While questioning her, she confessed of the affair. Nanavati went to the naval base, collected his pistol on a false pretext from the stores along with six bullets, completed his official duties and proceeded to Prem Ahuja’s office. Three shots were fired and Prem Ahuja dropped dead. Nanavati headed straight to confess to the Marshal of the Western Naval Command and, on his advice, turned himself over to the Deputy Commissioner of Police. The contention in the Jury trial was whether Nanavati shot Ahuja in the ‘heat of the moment’; or whether it was a premeditated murder. In the former scenario, Nanavati would not have been charged under the IPC for culpable homicide, with a maximum punishment of 10 years. This is because he could have invoked exceptions 1 and 4 of section 300 of IPC. The jury in the Greater Bombay Sessions Court held him not guilty. However, The High Court agreed with the prosecution’s argument that the murder was premeditated and sentenced Nanavati to life imprisonment for culpable homicide amounting to murder. On 24 November 1961, the Supreme Court of India upheld the conviction.
In the world of increasing alternate methods of dispute resolution, plea bargain, mediation, the practice of resorting to lay person i.e. jury members without any legal knowledge is reducing. India and the United States of America have certain different approaches to the jury system. The major difference between the jury systems is the distinction between civil and criminal. In India, mostly criminal matters were confronted to the jury however, the seventh amendment in the US inculcated jury trial even for civil proceedings. In India, in cases when there was a disagreement with the jury decision the blanket right to approach the High Court was given like in the Nanavati Trial case. This case abandoned any further trial by Jury in India. In US, in a civil trial, a judge may set aside the verdict regarding how much money the jury should award to the plaintiff in punitive damages. And, in case of criminal cases, judges may disregard a jury’s guilty verdict and acquit or grant a new trial if they believe the evidence was insufficient to support the decision made by the jurors. In India a blanket right to approach the High Court is given to the party. However, in the US if the court is not satisfied with the decision it voids it.
Thus, for India, the concept of Jury trial was never a star player. It appeared in midst of colonial pressure and discriminated against the Indians, acted as a lenient mechanism for accused Englishmen for atrocities committed by them.
 Vasant Desai, Panchayati Raj: Power to the People, p.4 (1990).
 Emperor v. Ram Chandra roy, I. L. R. 55. C., p. 578 at 886
 Jana Kalyan Das, Life and times of Jury system in India – A legal Analysis (2017)
 14th Report, Law Commision of India (1958)
 K.E., I.R. 61 I.A., p. 389
 (1946) 48 BOMLR 768
 K.M Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1962 SC 605
 Paula L. Hannaford-Agor & Valerie P. Hans, Nullification at Work? A Glimpse from the National Center for State Courts Study of HungJuries, 78 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 1249, 1254 (2003).