The Magistrate in such cases is bound either to discharge the accused or commit him for trial, but he has no power to declare an accused either guilty or innocent of the offence with which he is charged.
An inquiry is also by a Magistrate in cases triable by himself under S. 202 of the Code. On a complaint being filed before a Magistrate, he examines the complainant and the witnesses on oath in order to find out whether there is any matter which calls for investigation by a criminal court.
The Magistrate may not act on the complaint and dismiss it if he distrusts the statements of the complainant and the witnesses and the result of the ‘investigation or inquiry does not establish sufficient ground for proceeding. All these proceedings are in the nature of inquiry.
“Investigation”, according to the Code, includes all proceedings under it for the collection of evidence conducted by a police officer or by any person (other than a Magistrate) who is authorized by a Magistrate in this behalf. [Section 2 (h)].
Investigation consists of steps taken by a police officer other than a Magistrate to ascertain whether any offence has been committed at all and, if so, by whom and what is the evidence on which the prosecution can be based. Investigation can also be made by a person specially authorized by a Magistrate to do so. The case is only started if investigation by the police reveals that an offence has been committed by the accused, otherwise not.
The term “trial” has not been defined in the Code. It is the examination and determination of a cause by a judicial tribunal which has jurisdiction over it. It is a judicial proceeding which ends in conviction or acquittal but not discharge.
In a warrant case the trial begins with the framing of the charge when the accused is called upon to plead thereto : but in a summons case, as if is not necessary to frame a formal charge, the ‘trial’ starts when the accused is brought before the Magistrate and the particulars of the offence are stated to him. In a case exclusively triable by a court of session the trial begins only after the committal proceedings by the Magistrate. The term “trial” includes appeal and revision, which are a continuation of the first ‘trial’.
The function of a court in a criminal trial is to find out whether the person arraigned before it as the accused’ is guilty of the offence with which he is charged. For this purpose it scans the material on record to find whether there is any reliable and trustworthy evidence on the basis of which it is possible to found the conviction of the accused and to hold that he is guilty of the offence with which he is charged.
[Harchand Singh v. State of Haryana, 1975 (1) S.C.J. 102],
Investigation, Inquiry and Trial distinguished:
Investigation, inquiry and trial are three different stages of a criminal case. The case is first investigated by the police to ascertain whether an offence has actually been committed and if so, by whom and the nature of evidence available for the prosecution.
Inquiry is the second stage which is conducted by a Magistrate for the purpose of committing the accused to sessions or discharging him when no case has been made out. In case of complaints made to a Magistrate, it refers to a preliminary inquiry made by him under Section 202 to ascertain the truth or falsehood of the complaint or whether there is any matter which calls for investigation by a criminal court.
The final stage of the case comes when the accused is put on trial before the Sessions Judge or the Magistrate when he is empowered by law to try the cases himself.
Investigation and Inquiry:
(1) An investigation is made by a police officer or by some person authorized by a Magistrate but is never made by a Magistrate or a court. An inquiry is a judicial proceeding made by a Magistrate or a court.
(2) The object of an investigation is to collect evidence for the prosecution of the case, while the object of an inquiry is to determine the truth or falsity of certain facts with a view to taking further action thereon.
(3) Investigation is the first stage of the case and normally precedes enquiry by a Magistrate.
Inquiry and Trial:
Both inquiry and trial are judicial proceedings, but they differ in the following respects:
(1) An enquiry does not necessarily mean an inquiry into an offence for, it may, as well relate to matters which are not offences, e.g., inquiry made in disputes as to immovable property with regard to possession, public nuisances, or for the maintenance of wives and children. A trial on the other hand, is always of an offence.
(2) An inquiry in respect of an offence never ends in conviction or acquittal; at the most. It may result in discharge or commitment of the case to sessions. A trial must invariably end in acquittal or conviction of the accused.