This article is written by Dhawal Srivastava, a student currently pursuing B.A. LL.B (Hons.) from the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab and edited by Gitika Jain. In this article, he has discussed whether the Supreme Court of India can quash or club First Information Reports (FIRs) under Article 32 of the Constitution.
The relationship between Constitutional law and Criminal law has always been a contentious and debatable one; while the former enunciates numerous principles focussing on promotion of individual liberty by restricting the State’s actions, the latter tends to sanction coercive actions, both procedurally and substantively, against perpetrating individuals for the general public good at large. Criminal procedures enlist a detailed methodology to be followed for the prior investigation and the subsequent prosecution of the offenders while substantive criminal law catalogues the various offences that constitute the ‘substance’ of any criminal activity. Writ petitions are an intrinsic part of the Constitutional law framework which are provided to arm ordinary citizens with rights to challenge the state in case of injustice. In the past few years, a rising trend has been observed of invoking writ petitions under Article 32 of the Constitution in criminal matters.
Writ Petition under Article 32 of the Constitution
Described as the ‘heart and soul’ of the Indian Constitution by independent India’s first Law Minister and Father of the Indian Constitution, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, Article 32 or Right to Constitutional Remedies is, in essence, a significant feature and perfect representation of a liberal constitution. Under Article 32 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court of India is authorized to issue directions and orders in the nature of five categories of writ petitions that can be filed for “appropriate proceedings”. These have been briefly discussed below:
- Writ of Habeas Corpus literally translates to “you may have the body”. This writ is used for releasing a person who has been unlawfully or unjustifiably detained or incarcerated.
- Writ of Mandamus literally translates to “we command” and is issued by Courts to direct a public authority to dispense their sanctioned responsibilities or duties which it has omitted or refused to perform.
- Writ of Certiorari essentially signifies ‘to certify’. It is a curative writ issued by a higher court to quash or pass on to itself an order given out by a lower court (which it believes to have surpassed its allotted jurisdiction).
- Writ of Quo Warranto literally means “by what authority”. It is a significant writ that ensures accountability of a person holding a crucial public office to show under what authority he is holding the same.
- Writ of Prohibition is a preventive writ that prohibits the lower courts or tribunals from exercising those tasks that are beyond their authority.
Filing of FIRs under CrPC
A first information report commonly referred to with its abbreviation FIR is detailed information recorded by a police officer during his duty hours on the bidding of an aggrieved or some other person to the commission of the crime. The investigation is started by the police only after the filing of a First Information Report. Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 defines the fundamental underlying of what constitutes an FIR.
There are two essentials that are necessary to be fulfilled for filing an FIR under Section 154 of CrPC. These are as follows:
- The conveyed details should form the basis of ‘information’.
- The information should prima facie relate or associate to the commission of any cognizable offence.
Hence, FIRs can be seen as an initiation process to set the law and police machinery in motion and facilitate them to collect intricate details of a case based on the information provided by the informants through the First Information Reports.
Conditions for quashing of FIR
After much deliberation of the previous precedents with regards to Section 482 of the CrPC, the Supreme Court of India has listed ten conditions for quashing FIR. The report shall be quashed:
- In cases where the allegations made against a person are proved to be false in entirety.
- When after the police investigation is completed, no evidence to prove the premise of the offence being cognizable in nature is found or sufficient.
- Where after the investigation is done, it comes to the notice of the police department that the evidence that has been found does not match with the offence listed in the FIR and no case, thus, stands against the accused.
- When the FIR is being filed for an offence that is non-cognizable in nature, the investigation can start only after an order of the magistrate.
- Where no prudent, reasonable man can understand the reasonability of the allegations standing against the alleged offender and when these allegations are not proved in the court.
- Where the mala fide intention of exacting or taking revenge due to some personal matter is the sole driving force for initiating the FIR filing.
- When evidence that is found by subsequent investigation after the filing of FIR is not able to prove the guilt of the accused.
- Section 155(2) of CrPC can be used for quashing FIR in cases where the offence is of non-cognizable nature.
- When after the filing of an FIR, it is found to be so absurd that no conclusions can be drawn out of it, it can be quashed following a proper procedure.
- Cases where a mala fide intention of the party filing the FIR is found out.
Can FIRs be quashed under Article 32?
Article 32 of the Constitution provides and guarantees rights to the citizens for approaching the Hon’ble Supreme Court in cases of violation of their fundamental rights. It is a settled principle of law that it is up to the discretion of the apex court to entertain a petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution.
The stance of the Supreme Court in quashing FIRs
The issue of Supreme Court entertaining writ petitions filed under Article 32 for the quashing of a single or multiple FIRs has come in the limelight due to the recent controversy that ensued between a journalist and a senior politician. In Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India, the Supreme Court of India held that it would not be appropriate for the court to exercise jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution over the factors that are well within the ambit of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Moreover, from this case, the stand of the Supreme Court with regards to filing such petitions is also clear; the Court held that despite the availability of other redressal mechanisms and the option to file the petition before the concerned High Court, the petitioner decided to invoke the jurisdiction of the apex court on this matter under Article 32. The Supreme Court also made it clear that the contents of the FIR, viz. the alleged offences against the petitioner, are not to be ascertained or deliberated upon by the Court under the jurisdiction provided to it within Article 32 of the Constitution. Thus, a plea to quash the FIRs was not entertained by the apex court in this case.
Is it permissible to approach SC for quashing FIRs under Article 32?
In Amitbhai Anilchandra Shah v. the Central Bureau of Investigation, the two-judge bench comprising Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice B.S. Chauhan held that quashing of FIRs by the direct approaching of the apex court stands permissible (although it is specific to the facts of the case). In this case, the court also held the view that the petitioner was not appealing for the quashing of the proceedings but of the second FIR filed additionally against him, that was contrary to the directives of some prior judgment in the case.
Are such writs maintainable?
The Supreme Court also reiterated the significance of procedural framework to be followed in cases of criminal matters as enshrined in the CrPC. Although the Supreme Court held the maintainability of the writ petition under Article 32 to be valid, it stated that how the High Courts are supposed to be approached first if going in consonance with the procedure enlisted in Section 482 of the CrPC. Also, the court further emphasised the difference between maintaining a writ petition and entertaining it.
Provision of Clubbing of FIRs under Article 32
In the Arnab Goswami case, a proposal was raised from the side of the petitioners regarding clubbing the multiple FIRs that had been filed against the petitioner in various places. However, the issue that arose was with regards to whether the apex court is constitutionally empowered to club such multiple FIRs with accusations against an individual in different jurisdictions into a single one.
Should the accused be allowed to decide the course of the investigation?
In many of its landmark judgements, the Supreme Court of India has upheld the fundamental basis of criminal jurisprudence; not allowing the persons alleged or accused to decide the course of the investigation that is set against them. In Narender G. Goel v. State of Maharashtra, the court held that the accused has no right to be heard during the course of the investigation.
A similar view was upheld by the apex court in Romila Thapar v. Union of India where the Court ruled that the path of the investigation should not be decided according to the whims and behests of the accused person named in the FIR.
Some precedents telling SC’s stand on clubbing of FIRs
The CrPC does contain statutory provisions relating to the same. However, there have been some judgements in which the Supreme Court has dealt with the issue of providing constitutional impetus to clubbing of FIRs.
In V.K. Sharma v. Union of India, a two-judge bench of the apex court had a similar issue before them; a writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution in order to amalgamate all the pending cases in different jurisdictions across the country into one. The Court provisioned for the petitioner to approach the concerned High Courts to bring in all the related cases within its territorial jurisdictions into one. The Supreme Court rejected or refused to consolidate them on its own.
However, in State of Punjab v. Rajesh Syal, the V.K. Sharma judgement was essentially overruled by the three-judge bench of the apex court. Initially, relying on the precedent set in VK Sharma, the Punjab and Haryana High Court consolidated all the cases under Section 482 of the CrPC and transferred it to a Special District Magistrate in Punjab. This verdict was challenged in the Supreme Court which subsequently held that the judgement was in contravention to the established law and was not within the ambit of Article 142 of the Constitution which grants ample powers to the Supreme Court.
The status quo
Therefore, it can be observed that there exists a direct order against the filing of a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution for the clubbing of multiple FIRs into one. In fact, as held in the Rajesh Syal judgement, an accused does not even have the freedom to approach a particular High Court in order to request for amalgamation of various FIRs into one court within a state falling in its territorial jurisdiction. The status quo can now only be changed provided a larger bench decided to adjudicate over this issue.
In summarization, it can be concluded that with regards to the quashing of the First Information Report (FIR) or clubbing of multiple FIRs into a single one, a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution before the Supreme Court is not a very legally adequate and sound option, specifically looking at the stand that has been taken by the apex court in various of its judgements. At the same time, when procedural options for the same are already available within the procedural code (CrPC), a redressal method invoking this integral constitutional provision is unwarranted and will not be in the best interests of the petitioner.
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