November 25, 2017
In a recent verdict pronounced by three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, the Court expounded the scheme underlying Section 482 of CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) and the circumstances under which a High Court can exercise its inherent power to quash FIR or criminal proceeding.
Here it would be relevant to mention that Section 482 of CrPC saves the inherent powers of High Court and states that nothing in the CrPC shall limit the High Court’s inherent power to give effect to any order made under the CrPC or to prevent abuse of process of any Court or to secure the ends of justice.
Background- In the case, the Appellants had approached the Supreme Court aggrieved by Gujarat High Court’s order wherein the High Court had dismissed the Appellant’s application under Section 482 of CrPC. The Appellants in the case had sought quashing of First Information Report (FIR) registered against them for offences involving extortion, forgery and conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The Appellants had prayed for quashing the FIR on the ground that they had amicably settled the dispute with the complainant. The complainant had also filed an affidavit to that effect.
The prosecution in the case opposed the Appellant’s application and stated that quashing of FIR could not be allowed as firstly, the Appellants were absconding and warrants had been issued against them and secondly, the Appellants had criminal antecedents.
In appeal, the Appellants contended that as the dispute between the complainant and the Appellants arose from a transaction for the sale of land and hence essentially was of a civil nature and since parties had agreed to an amicable settlement, the High Court should have quashed the FIR in exercise of the jurisdiction conferred by Section 482 of CrPC .
In view of the prevailing law and precedents discussing the issue underlying in the instant case, the Supreme Court upheld the Gujarat High Court’s order rejecting quashing of FIR against the Appellants. The Supreme Court in the instant case took the opportunity to elaborately discuss the law pertaining to inherent power of High Court under Section 482 of CrPC to quash FIR or criminal proceeding in exercise of inherent jurisdiction. The Court made the following observations in the instant case:
Timing of settlement between parties is significant while determining issue of quashing a FIR
In the case of Narinder Singh v State of Punjab [(2014)6 SCC 466], the Supreme Court observed that the timing of a settlement is of significance in determining whether the jurisdiction under Section 482 should be exercised. In the said context the Court further stated that “those cases where the settlement is arrived at immediately after the alleged commission of offence and the matter is still under investigation, the High Court may be liberal in accepting the settlement to quash the criminal proceedings/investigation. On the other hand, where the prosecution evidence is almost complete or after the conclusion of the evidence the matter is at the stage of argument, normally the High Court should refrain from exercising its power under Section 482 of the Code, as in such cases the trial court would be in a position to decide the case finally on merits…”
Principles governing High Court’s inherent power under Section 482 of CrPC
The Supreme Court in the present case stated the broad principles governing the exercise of inherent powers by High Court under Section 482 of CrPC as under:
Section 482 of CrPC preserves the inherent powers of the High Court to prevent an abuse of the process of any Court or to secure the ends of justice. The provision does not confer new powers. It only recognises and preserves powers which inhere in the High Court;
The invocation of the jurisdiction of the High Court to quash FIR or a criminal proceeding on the ground that a settlement has been arrived at between the offender and the victim is not the same as the invocation of jurisdiction for the purpose of compounding an offence. The power to quash under Section 482 of CrPC is attracted even if the offence is non-compoundable.
In forming an opinion whether a criminal proceeding or complaint should be quashed in exercise of its jurisdiction under Section 482 of CrPC, the High Court must evaluate whether the ends of justice would justify the exercise of the inherent power;
While the inherent power of the High Court has a wide ambit and plenitude it has to be exercised; (i) to secure the ends of justice or (ii) to prevent an abuse of the process of any court;
The decision as to whether a complaint or FIR should be quashed on the ground that the offender and victim have settled the dispute, revolves ultimately on the facts and circumstances of each case and no exhaustive elaboration of principles can be formulated;
In the exercise of the power under Section 482 of CrPC and while dealing with a plea that the dispute has been settled, the High Court must have due regard to the nature and gravity of the offence. Heinous and serious offences involving mental depravity or offences such as murder, rape and dacoity cannot appropriately be quashed though the victim or the family of the victim have settled the dispute. Such offences are, truly speaking, not private in nature but have a serious impact upon society. The decision to continue with the trial in such cases is founded on the overriding element of public interest in punishing persons for serious offences;
As distinguished from serious offences, there may be criminal cases which have an overwhelming or predominant element of a civil dispute. They stand on a distinct footing in so far as the exercise of the inherent power to quash is concerned;
Criminal cases involving offences which arise from commercial, financial, mercantile, partnership or similar transactions with an essentially civil flavour may in appropriate situations fall for quashing where parties have settled the dispute;
In such a case, the High Court may quash the criminal proceeding if in view of the compromise between the disputants, the possibility of a conviction is remote and the continuation of a criminal proceeding would cause oppression and prejudice; and
That economic offences involving the financial and economic well-being of the state have implications which lie beyond the domain of a mere dispute between private disputants. The High Court would be justified in declining to quash where the offender is involved in an activity akin to a financial or economic fraud or misdemeanour. The consequences of the act complained of upon the financial or economic system will weigh in the balance.
FIR implicating serious offences shall not be quashed
That the allegations in the FIR demonstrated that the offences in the instant case were not merely one involving a private dispute over a land transaction between two contesting parties. The case involved allegations of extortion, forgery and fabrication of documents, utilization of fabricated documents to effectuate transfers of title before the registering authorities and the deprivation of the complainant of his interest in land on the basis of a fabricated power of attorney. If the allegations in the FIR are construed as they stand, it was evident that they implicate serious offences having a bearing on a vital societal interest in securing the probity of titles to or interest in land. Such offences cannot be construed to be merely private or civil disputes but implicate the societal interest in prosecuting serious crime.
The instant case can be classified as an essential authority which aids in streamlining the law apropos authority of High Courts to quash FIR or criminal proceedings under Section 482 of CrPC . In a recent case of Rakhi Mishra v. State of Bihar1 the Supreme Court had reiterated the legal proposition that High Court can exercise its inherent powers under Section 482 of CrPC in exceptional circumstances only.
One of the vital observations made by the Apex Court in the present case is that seriousness of offence is a crucial aspect while determining a case involving quashing of FIR. The Court remarked that criminal proceedings involving offences of serious nature which may impact the society at large shall not be quahsed on the ground that the parties have reached a settlement.
1Criminal Appeal No. 1499 of 2017