Trial and Court Process in Riot cases

May16,2021 #Delhi Riots #Rioting #Riots

Aaryan Dhar

This particular article discusses in detail about certain cases which deal with rioting as well as cases of security issue. This article takes a reference from the Delhi high court rules, and analyses the different rules/procedures set up while there is a case of rioting brought to the court of law. This particular article discusses the careful handling, the rights of the parties in the trial, the elements of a riot and how these trials will be conducted.

What is Rioting?

A riot is described as an illegal assembly in a specific state of operation, followed by the use of force or intimidation, as defined by Section 146 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Rioting is distinguished from an illegal assembly by the use of force or intimidation.

To define riots, the term “violence” refers not only to force used against people, but also to force used against inanimate objects. It would be enough to prove that violence was used if an illegal gathering came together for the intention of tearing down a house or a store or damaging some other property.

Rioting occurs when a group of individuals, or any person within that group, commits an offense. The participation of at least 5 people is needed for rioting. This offense typically stems from civil strife and is characterized by abrupt and provocative conduct. It demonstrates a herd mentality, which is why even if a member of the guilty party has not committed a violent crime, he or she will be held responsible for rioting.

A collective purpose and object of committing a crime is one of the most significant components of rioting. This “general purpose” leaves everyone in the party susceptible to punishment, even though they have not participated in the rioting themselves.

Historically, rioting has occurred in response to concerns over political policy, the result of a sports event, dissatisfaction with some legal judgment, taxes, injustice, racial disputes, or as a means of channelling people’s oppression to the government. Rioting is punishable by a sentence of three years in prison, a fine, or both under section 148 of the IPC. This is a cognizable offense that may be prosecuted by a first-class judge.

Rules for handling Riots Under Delhi High Court Rules

Careful handling required

It must be noted that the entire process of rioting is a chaotic one, which has several people and elements involved in it. It must be noted that due to this chaos this case is meant to be handled with utmost care and concern. From the multiple suspects to witnesses and evidences all needs to be handled with utmost care. In most cases, there are a vast number of people involved, and the testimony is often partisan. Furthermore, since parties in such cases have a propensity to unfairly implicate as many of their rivals as possible, there is a significant risk of innocent people being accused alongside the guilty.

Responsibility of the Court to determine

The parties involved in the riots normally provide greatly conflicting reports of the riot, and in such cases, the Police usually arrest the participants of both the parties, presenting the divergent representations and supporting facts to the Court. In such cases, the Court must determine one of the two accounts is right, and the Court cannot abdicate this responsibility on the grounds that the Police did not determine which story was valid. The abovementioned rules are explained in detail below-

In the case of State of Uttar Pradesh v. Dan Singh[1], the Apex Court established the following principle (1997) When there is a vast number of attackers as well as spectators in a riot, it is only reasonable that the testimonies of the witnesses may differ. What needs to be seen is whether the specific characteristics of the incident were equally interpreted or represented by observers in a way that corresponds to the riot’s result.

The presence of minor inconsistencies or distortion in the testimonies of eye witnesses should not be seen as a reason to dismiss their testimonies. Courts should rely on a proportion of eyewitness testimony as a matter of pragmatism.

In the case of Krishnegowda v. State of Karnataka[2], the Apex Court held that in such matters, it is customary to follow the test that the verdict may be upheld if it is backed by two, three, or more witnesses who present a clear account of the incident (2000).

Right of self-defence

There is no doubt about the right to self-defence as both sides knowingly participate in a fight. However, unless the right to private defence is violated, the matter of who was the aggressor and who was behaving in self-defence becomes critical, and the Court must do its utmost to reach a decision. Certain conditions under which this can be assessed and this right can be invoked is mentioned under section 96 to 106 of the Indian Penal Code, and the parties refer to these sections if they need to invoke their right to private defence.

Separate trials when both parties are prosecuted

When both the sides to a riot are charged, the charges must be heard independently, and testimony from one trial should not be used as evidence of the other, even though the parties agree. Similarly, rulings in both cases should be written independently, with special consideration taken to ensure that testimony from one case is not included in the other. Courts may find it more straightforward to resolve both cases with a single verdict but doing so risks mixing up the facts in the two documents.

Even if the Lower Courts are cautious not to mess up the facts, the fact that they wrote one decision provides the convicts with a basis for appeal that the Lordships of the Privy Council’s orders in Madat Khan v. The King Emperor were not pursued. Such objections must be considered, investigated, and determined, wasting a significant amount of the appellate Court’s time.

Case- Madat Khan v. The King Emperor[3]

Two groups of Pathans were convicted and tried separately for murder and grievous bodily harm after an armed struggle that led to the death of an individual of each group. Both the Sessions Judge and the HC on appeal dealt with both cases in a single decision. The appellants, who were supporters of one party, were granted special leave to appeal their convictions on the grounds that evidence from the proceeding against the other party was included in the assessment of the proceedings against them.

On the hearing of the appeal, it emerged that there was a body of proof presented in the proceedings against the appellants that justified their convictions and that the procedural irregularity had not resulted in any injustice. The appeal should be rejected in compliance with the Judicial Committee’s procedures.

This was again reiterated in the case of Bhanwarlal And Ors. v. State of Rajasthan[4]Where a number of people have been jointly tried, the court should consider the evidence against each of the accused separately and give definite findings against the presence of each.”

Case of each accused should be separately sifted

When recording testimony in riot trials, it’s important to emphasize as clearly as possible what each accused’s contribution to the crime and the specific role he played. The evidence against of the accused should be analysed separately in the verdict, along with any evidence provided by him in defence (if any), which should be carefully scrutinized. It’s important to keep in mind the risk of innocent people being wrongly accused. The appearance or absence of injury to a convicted person, as well as the acknowledgement or omission of his name in an FIR made immediately by an eyewitness, are deserving of scrutiny in this regard, but they are by no way definitive.

An unlawful assembly, its common object and use of violence must be proved

The presence of an unlawful assembly with a particular association, as specified in Section 141 of the Indian Penal Code, is required to charge anyone with rioting. No one should be charged with rioting until it is shown that he was a participant of an unlawful assembly and that one or more than one of their group members used intimidation or abuse in the pursuit of the assembly’s collective goal.

To avoid losing sight of the basic ingredients of the offence, it is prudent to appeal to the unlawful assembly, the general purpose, and the use of force or intimidation in the charge.

The Apex Court clarified the principle of this Section in the case of Lalji and Others v. State of Uttar Pradesh[5] (1989) Sec 149 establishes a separate and unique offense. Once the Court determines that a particular convicted party created an unlawful assembly and a crime is committed by any member of that assembly in furtherance of the general purpose of that group, anyone who was a member of that unlawful assembly at the time of the offence may be held accountable for the crime committed.

Joint liability of accused

The Sec 149 of the IPC, which renders a member of an unlawful assembly constructively responsible for crimes committed by other members in the pursuit of the assembly’s shared purpose, requires close examination. Before the Court may use Section 149, the Court may determine with confidence if at least 5 people shared the same intent.

It is not always the case for 5 people to be convicted for the crime until Section 149 can be used. If the requisite number of people participated in the crime is unknown, collective responsibility can also be imposed under Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code if it is determined that the act comprising the offence was committed in furtherance of everyone’s shared purpose.

When no mutual responsibility may be created, each convicted party may be held liable only for his own actions, according to Section 149 and Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1954, and the case of Dalip Singh and others v. The State of Punjab[6], which may be reviewed.


Before the Court may use Section 149, the Court may determine with confidence if at least 5 people shared the same object. A ruling that 3 of the 7 men in question “could or may not have been” at the scene of the crime reveals doubt on this crucial issue, and a verdict based on the shaky basis cannot be upheld.

It is critical, particularly in a murder case where the penalty of transportation has been increased to death in no fewer than four cases, that the Judge make an unequivocal finding on the point. It is not enough for five people to be arrested until Section 149 can be used. Where it is reasonable to infer that, while 5 people were unquestionably present at the time of the crime, the identity of one or two of them is in question, a prosecution of the others using the section will be appropriate.

Sentences when several offences are committed

When participants of an unlawful assembly commit a variety of offenses in the process of a riot in pursuit of their collective goal, each participant is guilty of rioting as well as any other offense committed by himself or the other participants of the unlawful assembly. He is liable to be sentenced individually for any of these offenses under Section 35 of the Criminal Procedure Code, according to the terms of Section 71 of the Indian Penal Code.


Due to the fact that criminal law depends on the motive to commit a crime, it is exceedingly impossible to assign culpability to every single member of a gang as they commit offences. Since the goal is to administer justice and convict the accused while protecting the innocent, the trial should be a quest for the facts rather than a squabble over the technical details, and it should be held according to laws that shield the victims while punishing the guilty. The proof of charge, which must be beyond a reasonable doubt, must be based on a judicial review of the whole body of testimony, both oral and circumstantial, rather than a single examination.



  • Section 146 of the Indian Penal Code
  • section 148 of the Indian Penal Code
  • Section 149 the Indian Penal Code
  • Section 141 of the Indian Penal Code
  1. State of Uttar Pradesh v. Dan Singh AIR 1965 SC 202
  2. Krishnegowda v. State of Karnataka CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 635 OF 2006
  3. Madat Khan v. The King Emperor ILR 8 Lah. 193 (PC)
  4. Bhanwarlal And Ors. v. State of Rajasthan AIR 1959 Raj 257
  5. Lalji and Others v. State of Uttar Pradesh 1989 AIR 754
  6. Dalip Singh and others v. The State of Punjab, AIR 1953 SC 364

Delhi High Court Directions

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