Is An Accused Entitled To Translation Of Charge Sheet In The Language Which He Understands? [CBI vs Narottam Dhakad -2023 INSC 770 ]

A chargesheet was filed against one Narottam Dhakad by CBI. He filed an application before the Judicial Magistrate seeking a direction to supply a Hindi translation of the charge sheet (which was in English). This application was rejected by the Magistrate after he found that Dhakad was an educated person, having knowledge of English. Further, it was found that his Advocate also had sound knowledge of the English language. This issue finally reached the Madhya Pradesh High Court which then held that Hindi was the only language of the Criminal Courts in the State and therefore, the accused was entitled to seek a translation of the charge sheet into the language of the Court. CBI thus approached the Apex Court challenging this High Court ruling.

The Apex Court found that there is no specific provision in CrPC which requires the investigating agency/officer to file the Chargesheet in the language of the Court determined in accordance with Section 272 of CrPC. When the accused is represented by an advocate who fully understands the language of the final report or charge sheet, there will not be any requirement of furnishing translations to the accused as the advocate can explain the contents of the charge sheet to the accused, the court noted.

What if the accused is appearing in person and wants to defend himself without opting for legal aid?

Perhaps there may be a requirement of supplying a translated version of the charge sheet and documents or the relevant part thereof concerning the said accused to him. It is, however, subject to the accused satisfying the Court that he is unable to understand the language in which the charge sheet is submitted.

What if both the accused and his advocate are not conversant with the language in which the charge sheet has been filed?

If both the accused and his advocate are not conversant with the language in which the charge sheet has been filed, then the question of providing translation may arise. The reason is that the accused must get a fair opportunity to defend himself. He must know and understand the material against him in the charge sheet. That is the essence of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. With the availability of various software and Artificial Intelligence tools for making translations, providing translations will not be that difficult now. In the cases mentioned aforesaid, the Courts can always direct the prosecution to provide a translated version of the charge sheet.

The court however clarified that a charge sheet filed within the period provided either under Section 167 of CrPC or any other relevant statute in a language other than the language of the Court or the language which the accused does not understand, is not illegal and no one can claim a default bail on that ground.

The court further noted that the central agencies like the National Investigation Agency, Central Bureau of Investigation, etc will not be in a position to file the final report in the language of the concerned Court as determined by Section 272 of CrPC.

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