This article is written by Samiksha Madan, a law student at Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad. This article analyzes the provisions of compoundable offences under Section 320 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.

Introduction 

‘Interest reipublicae ut sit finis litium’, a Latin legal maxim, means that it is in the State’s best interest for litigation to come to a close. For a long time, various matters have been pending before the courts of law. The law gave the criminal justice system a powerful instrument that, when used, can significantly reduce the time it takes to conclude a case. Such a provision has been laid down in Section 320 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, entailing the compoundable offence. This article aims to explain what compoundable offences are and on what grounds can non-compoundable offences be compounded under Section 320.

What is compounding of an offence

If there is a settlement between the accused and the crime victim, it may be prudent in some cases to permit the compounding of offences and to end the legal proceedings. Sometimes, the public prosecutor or the complainant may decide it is preferable to drop the case; the court may then approve this withdrawal, ending the criminal trial. The Criminal Procedure Code permits stopping the proceedings in specific situations, subject to certain restrictions if the magistrate himself deems it desirable. In specific circumstances, the non-appearance or death of the complainant may mandate the closure of the proceedings; and, subject to specific exceptions, the death of the accused person himself may result in the abatement of the case. For some compelling reasons, it may be necessary to grant the accused person a conditional pardon for his claimed involvement in the crime. The prosecution of the accused individual would have to be dropped in the event that such a pardon was granted. 

To compound means “to settle a matter by a money payment, in lieu of other liability.” In criminal law, the victim has the capacity to compound the offence. Section 320 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, provides legal provisions for the compounding of offences. The purpose of Section 320 of the Code is to promote amicable relations between the parties in order to restore peace.

Compounding of offences under Common Law

Compounding a felony was considered a misdemeanor under common law. There are laws that penalize the offence as a felony in several states. Misdemeanor compounding is not illegal. An agreement not to prosecute a misdemeanor, however, is unenforceable since it violates public policy. Under this principle, compounding is a crime that is practically all across American law. The compounding of a crime may be tried as a common law crime in two states and as a statutory offence in forty-five states. Compounding has been outlawed in England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland.

Constituents of Section 320 CrPC

Section 320(1) – Compounding without the court’s permission 

The law provides for the compounding of offences without the court’s permission under Section 320(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code. These offences are punishable by certain sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which may be compounded by the individuals listed in the third column of that table.

Here are a few examples of such offences:

Section of the I.P.C. applicableOffencesPersons by whom the offences may be compounded 
298Uttering words, etc. with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of a person.The person whose religious feelings are intended to be wounded.
323, 334Voluntarily causing hurt, voluntarily causing hurt on provocation.The person to whom the hurt is caused.
341, 342Wrongfully restraining or confining any person.The person is restrained or confined.
352, 355, 358Assault or use of criminal force.The person assaulted or to whom criminal force is used. 
426, 427Mischief, when the only loss or damage caused is loss or damage to a private person.The person to whom the loss or damage is caused.
447Criminal trespassThe person in possession of the property trespassed upon.
448House-trespassThe person in possession of the property trespassed upon it.
451House-trespass in order to commit an offence punishable with imprisonmentThe person in possession of the offence (other than theft) punishable house trespassed upon
482Punishment for using a false property markThe person to whom loss or injury is marked. caused by such use.
483Counterfeiting a property mark used by anotherThe person to whom loss or injury is marked. caused by such use.
486Knowingly selling, or exposing or possessing for sale or for manufacturing purpose, goods marked with a counterfeit propertymark.The person to whom loss or injury is mark. caused by such use.
491 Criminal breach of contract of service.The person with whom the offender has contracted.
497AdulteryThe husband of the woman.
498Enticing or taking away or detaining with criminal intent a marriedThe husband of the woman and the woman.
500 Defamation against the President or the Vice-President or the Governor of a State or the Administrator of a Union territory or a Minister in respect of his public functions when instituted upon] a complaint made by the Public Prosecutor.The person defamed.
501Printing or engraving matter, knowing it to be defamatory.The person defamed.
502Sale of printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter, knowing it to contain such matter.The person defamed.
504Insult intended to provoke a breach of the peaceThe person insulted.
506Criminal intimidation.The person intimidated.
508Inducing person to believe himself an object of divine displeasure.The person induced.

Section 320(2) – Court’s permission is required before compounding an offence 

The law provides for the compounding of offences wherein the court’s permission is a pre-requisite under Section 320(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code. These offences are punishable by certain sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which may be compounded by the individuals listed in the third column of that table.

Here are a few examples of such offences:

Section of the I.P.C. applicableOffencesPerson by whom offence may be compounded 
312Causing miscarriageThe woman to whom miscarriage is caused.
325Voluntarily causing grievous hurtThe person to whom hurt is caused.
337Causing hurt by doing an act so rashly and negligently as to endanger human life or the personal safety of others.The person to whom hurt is caused.
338Causing grievous hurt by doing an act so rashly and negligently as to endanger human life or the personal safety of others.The person to whom hurt is caused.
357Assault or criminal force in attempting wrongfully to confine a person.The person assaulted or to whom the force was used.
381Theft, by clerk or servant of property in possession of master.The owner of the property was stolen.
406Criminal breach of trust.The owner of property in respect of which a breach of trust has been committed.
408Criminal breach of trust by a clerk or servant.The owner of the property in respect of which the breach of trust has been committed.
418Cheating a person whose interest the offender was bound, either by law or by legal contract, to protect.The person cheated.
420Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property or the making, alteration or destruction of valuable security.The person cheated.
494Marrying again during the life-time of a husband or wifeThe husband or wife of the person so marrying.
500Defamation against the President or the Vice-President or the Governor of a State or the Administrator of a Union territory or a Minister in respect of his public functions when instituted upon a complaint made by the public prosecutor.The person is defamed.
509Uttering words or sounds or making gestures or exhibiting any object intending to insult the modesty of a woman or intruding upon the privacy of a woman.The woman whom it was intended to insult or whose privacy was intruded upon.

In addition to the aforementioned provisions, certain state amendments were made, such as the Andhra Pradesh Act of 2003 (Section 2), which resulted in the inclusion of Section 494A of the IPC, which provides for cruelty against a woman by her husband or any of his relatives. 

Section 320(3) 

It states that if an offence is compoundable in nature, as outlined by this section, then aiding or abetting the commission of such an offence, or an attempt to do so, or where the accused is held liable under Section 34 or Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code, is likewise compoundable in nature. In other words, if a person has attempted to conduct a compoundable offence or assisted in the execution of a compoundable offence, the attempt or assistance is also compoundable in character. This is only accurate for offences for which aiding and abetting and attempting to commit are offences in and of themselves. For instance, if person ‘A’ has uttered words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of another person, it is a compoundable offence, and the parties might reach an agreement among themselves. Similarly, if ‘A’ has attempted to commit theft, or abetted/helped another person to commit the offence of theft, then this attempt and abetment are also compoundable in nature.

Section 320(4) 

This sub-section states the circumstances in which the victim is a minor, of unsound mind, or deceased. This provision asserts that when a victim is a minor (18 years) or of unsound mind, a guardian representing such a person can compound the offence on their behalf. However, before a guardian may compound an offence on behalf of a minor, the court must grant approval. This provision further indicates that if the individual who had the authority to compound the offence is deceased as defined in the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (5 of 1908), a legal representative of that person may compound an offence on his or her behalf if prior authorization is obtained from the court.

Section 320(5) 

It states that when the accused is on trial for a compoundable offence or when the accused has been convicted by a court and an appeal against the conviction is pending, compounding of such an offence is not permitted at that stage without the permission of the court. It makes no difference whether the offence is classified as class 1 or class 2 as entailed under Section 320(1) and (2).

Section 320(6) 

It allows the High Court, under Section 401 of the CrPC, and the Sessions Court, under Section 399 of the CrPC, to grant permission to compound offences, provided the individual requesting the permission is competent to do so. Sections 401 and 399 of the CrPC entail the High Court’s and Sessions Court’s respective revisionary powers.

Section 320(7) 

It lays down that if the accused is liable either to additional punishment or to a punishment of a different kind for any previous conviction shall not be permitted to compound an offence.

Section 320(8) 

This Section discusses the consequences of compounding an offence. The outcome of compounding an offence is that the accused is acquitted. It makes no difference whether the FIR was filed or whether the trial had begun; as long as the offence was compounded with the court’s approval, the offender is exonerated of all accusations. Hence, it has been deduced in the case of Yesudas v. Sub-Inspector of Police, Kalamassery (2007) that the expression ‘accused’ under Section 320(8) and ‘prosecution’ under Section 320(2) of the Code used cannot lead to the conclusion by the court that composition can only be a post-cognizable event. 

Section 320(9) 

This Section states that no offence would be considered as compounded except as entailed under this Section. Furthermore, it has been stated in the case of Gurcharan Singh Bhawani v. State (2002) that offences not compoundable under Section 320(9) cannot be dealt with under Section 482 of the Code.

What are non-compoundable offences 

Non-compoundable offences are those that cannot be compounded, but can only be quashed. The rationale for this is that the nature of the offence is so heinous and unlawful that the accused cannot be let off the hook. The notion of the complainant entering into a compromise does not come up in this situation because, in general, it is the ‘state,’ or the police, who brought the case. These are more significant and heinous offences that damage society as a whole rather than just an individual. The reason for not allowing such offences to be compounded is that getting away with grave offences would set a negative precedent in society. Non-compoundable offences are against public policy, and hence settlement is not permitted by a regular court. All offences that are not specified in the list under Section 320 of the CrPC are non-compoundable. Even the court lacks the jurisdiction and capacity to compound such an offence. A full trial is held, which concludes with the offender’s acquittal or conviction depending on the evidence presented.

Some of the examples of non-compoundable offences – Where the court’s permission is required: 

  • Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means – Section 326
  • Fraudulent execution of a deed of transfer containing a false statement of consideration – Section 423
  • Wrongfully confining a person for three days or more – Section 343
  • Assault or criminal force on a woman with the intent to outrage her modesty – Section 352
  • Dishonest misappropriation of property – Section 403
  • Mischief by killing or maiming cattle, etc. of any value of fifty rupees or upwards – Section 429
  • Counterfeiting a trade or property mark used by another – Section 483
  • Cauing grievous hurt by doing an act so rashly and negligently as to endanger human life or the personal safety of others – Section 338
  • Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property or the making, alteration or destruction of valuable security – Section 420
  • Uttering words or sounds or making gestures or exhibiting any object intending to insult the modesty of a woman or intruding upon the privacy of a woman – Section 509

Difference between compoundable and non-compoundable offences

Nature of crime

The nature of the offence is not as serious in the instance of a compoundable offence. While the nature of the offence is serious in the non-compoundable offence. For example, criminal breach of trust, voluntarily causing grievous hurt, etc. are compoundable offences, whereas assault or criminal force on a woman with intent to outrage per modesty, dishonest misappropriation of property, etc. are non-compoundable offences.

Withdrawal of charges 

Charges brought against the accused for a compoundable offence may be dropped or withdrawn. However, charges against the accused cannot be dropped while they are pending for a non-compoundable offence.

Affected parties

A private person is the only one who is impacted by a compoundable offence. In contrast, a non-compoundable offence has an impact on both private individuals and society as a whole.

Compoundability

In a compoundable offence, a settlement may be reached with the permission of the court as entailed under Section 320(1) of the CrPC, or without the court’s approval as mentioned under Section 320 (2) of the CrPC. In contrast, a non-compoundable offence may only be quashed; it cannot be compounded as the court does not have the power to allow for settlement of these offences.

Case filing

In compoundable offences, cases are often filed by an individual. However, the state brings cases for non-compoundable offences.

Basis of DistinctionCompoundable OffencesNon-Compoundable offences
Nature of crimeThe nature of the offence is not as serious in the instance of a compoundable offence. For example, criminal breach of trust, voluntarily causing grievous hurt, etc. are compoundable offences.While the nature of the offence is serious in the non-compoundable offence. For example, assault or criminal force on women with intent to outrage per modesty, dishonest misappropriation of property, etc. are non-compoundable offences.
Withdrawal of charges Charges brought against the accused for a compoundable offence may be dropped or withdrawn.Charges against the accused cannot be dropped while they are pending for a non-compoundable offence.
Affected partiesA private person is the only one who is impacted by a compoundable offence.A non-compoundable offence has an impact on both private individuals and society as a whole.
CompoundabilityFor a compoundable offence, a settlement may be reached with or without the court’s approval.A non-compoundable offence may only be quashed; it cannot be compounded.
Case filingIn compoundable offences, cases are often filed by an individual.Cases are brought by the state in the non-compoundable offence, however.

What is plea bargaining and how is it different from compounding an an offence

Plea bargaining is the result of negotiations between the prosecution and the accused prior to the trial, in which the accused confesses guilt in exchange for a benefit or less punishment. India’s criminal procedure code addresses plea bargaining under sections 265A to 265L. It applies to crimes that carry a sentence of up to 7 years in prison and is not applicable to crimes committed against minors or women under the age of 14.  If the court gives a ruling on plea bargaining, there cannot be an appeal against that decision. The charges are reduced, and other charges are withdrawn. 

The differences between the two are as follows: 

  • Plea bargaining involves admitting guilt, whereas a compounding offence is guilt-free.
  • Contrarily, the idea of compounding crimes has been around since 1974. The notion of plea bargaining was first introduced in 2006.
  • Plea bargaining just negotiates the accusations and penalties; it does not result in the offender’s acquittal. On the other hand, compounding offences result in the acquittal of the offender.
  • Under a plea bargain, the offender cannot make use of Section 300, which prohibits an accused from being tried for the same or a different charge based on the same circumstances after being found guilty or not guilty, however, an accused under a compounding of offences arrangement may. 

On what ground can non-compoundable offences be compounded under Section 320 CrPC 

“Merely because an offence is compoundable under Section 320 CrPC, the court can nonetheless use discretion in light of the nature of the offence.”

In Bhagyan Das v. The State of Uttarakhand & Anr.(2019), the Supreme Court concluded that a court has the discretion to dismiss a plea to compound an offence even though the charge is compoundable under Section 320 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The Supreme Court cited many decisions, notably Gian Singh v. State of Punjab (2012), in which the Supreme Court declared that the High Court must refrain from quashing criminal proceedings where the act is heinous and serious or when the public interest is implicated. The proceedings may be annulled if the offence is only a civil issue, offences deriving from commercial activities, when the harm is personal in character, and the parties have resolved their disagreement. The criminal proceedings may be halted by the High Court if the likelihood of conviction is remote and the continuation of the criminal case would result in grave injustice to the accused.

The Gian Singh Case was taken into consideration by the Supreme Court in the Narinder Singh case (1947), and it was noted that where the parties have reached a settlement, the High Court can utilise its inherent authority under Section 482 of the CrPC to halt criminal proceedings even in cases of non-compoundable offences. This power, however, should be used cautiously. The Supreme Court stated that, while an offence under Section 307 of the IPC is against society, the high courts might consider whether the inclusion of Section 307 of the IPC is only for spectacle or if there is sufficient evidence to prove it. Finally, the Supreme Court ruled that the judgement in the Narinder Singh case must be interpreted holistically and as a whole in the context of the case.

The Supreme Court has been cautious in declaring which criminal matters are to be compoundable, and the High Court has put down sufficient standards to quash criminal offences. In the case of Rameshchandra J, Thakkar v. A.P. (1972), the Supreme Court established that if an offender is acquitted based on compounding and it is later discovered that the compounding was invalid, the acquittal can be reversed by the High Court exercising its revisionary power. Furthermore, if a non-compoundable criminal is acquitted on improper grounds, the High Court might overturn the acquittal.  The Supreme Court in Y. Suresh Bahn v. State of A.P. (1987) allowed compromise in a non-compoundable offence, i.e., Section 326 IPC. The Court termed it a special case and observed that it should be treated as a precedent.

Provisions of compounding offences under other laws

The Companies Act, 2013 

 Compounding of offences is a procedure for settlement in which the offender is offered the choice to pay money rather than face prosecution, preventing a drawn-out legal battle. The compounding of offences is addressed under Section 441 of the Companies Act, 2013. Compounding of offences is covered under Section 441 of the Companies Act of 2013. According to Section 441(1), an offence that is only punished by a fine may be compounded. Compounding offences is not a novel concept under company law; Section 621A of the Companies Act of 1956 already had comparable provisions.

Companies had a number of difficulties in complying with the legislative, administrative, and technical requirements imposed by the 2013 Companies Act during the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to ease the burden of compliance on corporations under various sections of the Act during the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Indian government has stated that several offences that are compoundable in nature would be decriminalized.

The Income Tax Act, 1961 

The term ‘competent authority’ will be used to refer to the entity with the authority to compound an offence. According to Section 279(2), any Act-related offence may be compounded at any moment, whether before or after the initiation of legal action.

The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 

According to Section 19(5) of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, the Lok Adalat has the power to evaluate and reach an agreement between the parties to a dispute over any matter linked to a crime that is punishable under any law.

The Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), 1999

A breach of any of the guidelines, directives, instructions, notifications, or orders made under the FEMA Act is referred to as a contravention of the Act. Compounding such violations entails voluntarily acknowledging the violation, admitting blame for it, and requesting restitution. It is permitted for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to compound any violation of the Act’s definition of that term under Section 13. This is a voluntary practice used by a person or organization to try and compound a breach. Compounding violations under FEMA has other advantages, such as avoiding litigation, delaying the start of additional actions, and alleviating the load on the judicial system.

Decriminalization of compoundable offences

Compounding offences also operate under the decriminalisation principle because it clears the accused of the charges. The guilty party may have paid the complainant back, or the parties’ attitudes toward one another may have completely changed. To recognize these situations and to provide a way to end criminal investigations for particular types of crimes, criminal law must be changed. That is the justification for compounding offences. The victim may have received compensation from the offender, or the parties’ perceptions of one another may have changed for the better. The question of which offences should or should not be considered compoundable is one that legislators frequently face. The issue has been looked at from a variety of perspectives, the benefits and drawbacks have been evaluated, and a rational and reasonable choice has been made. In general, it is not permitted to compromise crimes that jeopardize state security or have a significant impact on the community. Furthermore, compounding is not an option for heinous crimes. The offender is declared innocent after the offence is compounded, and the court loses jurisdiction over the case.

Judicial pronouncements 

  1. Mahalovya Gauba v. Punjab State and Others (2021) – According to the Court’s ruling in Mahalovya Gauba v. State of Punjab and Others, criminal cases involving compoundable offences can be divided into two categories:
  • Settlements of criminal cases pursuant to Section 320(1) of the CrPC without the court’s approval, and
  • Criminal cases that can be resolved with the court’s permission under Section 320(2) of the CrPC may be heard by the Lok Adalat. These cases may be resolved without the court’s permission under Section 320(1) of the CrPC or with the court’s permission under Section 320(2) of the CrPC.
  1. B.S. Joshi v. State of Haryana (2003) – The accused in this case were charged with offences that couldn’t be compounded. However, after amicably settling their disputes, the parties asked the High Court to quash the case. However, the Court declined to do so, and the case was taken to the Supreme Court where the ruling was overturned and the case dismissed. According to the Apex Court’s line of reasoning, Section 482 gives the High Court some inherent powers to further the interests of justice. Even though the offence is not compoundable in some circumstances, the High Court may nonetheless quash the case under Section 482 in order to uphold the law. Serving justice cannot be hindered by Section 320. Allowing a compromise between the parties in the event of non-compoundable offences is much more precise and is based on the specifics of each case.
  2. Nikhil Merchant v. CBI (2008) – This case saw a reaffirmation of the decision taken in the B.S. Joshi case. Charges against the accused, in this case, included both compoundable and non-compoundable offences. However, prior to the filing of the charge sheet, the parties had reached an agreement and wished to have the criminal proceedings against the defendant quashed. The criminal proceedings were overturned by the Supreme Court after the High Court refused to quash them. The Supreme Court ruled that the interests of justice cannot be disregarded simply because of the technicality afforded by Section 320 about when a party can move for the quashing of proceedings and when a party can reach a settlement. There is no use in continuing the criminal procedures when the parties have already reached an agreement, the validity of which has been formally verified by the court.
  3. Biswabahan Das v. Gopen Chandra Hazarika & Ors.(1966) – In Biswabahan Das v. Gopen Chandra Hazarika & Ors., the three-judge bench decided that the proper remedy for such a crime may be compounded if it affects the complainant in their personal capacity.
  4. Shiji @ Pappu v. Radhika (2011) – The Supreme Court reaffirmed in the recently decided case of Shiji @ Pappu vs. Radhika that just because an offence is not compoundable in nature does not preclude the High Court from quashing the prosecution of the accused using its inherent authority under Section 482.

Conclusion

A crime is a fundamental wrong committed against society and the state. As a result, any agreement reached between the accused and the specific victim of the crime should not exonerate the accused of criminal guilt. However, where the offences are primarily of a private character and are not particularly serious in nature, the Code finds it appropriate to recognize some of them as compoundable offences and others as compoundable only with the court’s approval. The majority of compoundable offences are non-cognizable, although not all non-cognizable offences are compoundable. However, the offences that can only be compounded with the court’s consent is typically cognizable, albeit not all cognizable offences can be compounded. To fall under the purview of compoundable offences, the nature of the crime must not be overly grave. In general, the offences should be private in nature. Private offences are defined as those that have a detrimental influence on a person’s competence or identity. Such offences should not endanger the general public or be detrimental to the state’s well-being. Rape, murder, and dacoity are all heinous offences that cannot be compounded.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

According to the CrPC, who has the authority to compound the offence?

According to Section 320, compounding may be done by the victim of an offence. The parents and legal representatives of the accused child, deceased person, or disabled person may compound with the court’s approval.

Who can compound an offence under Section 320 if the person who would otherwise be competent to do so is deceased?

When a person who would otherwise be able to compound an offence under Section 320 is deceased, Section 320(4)(b) states that the legal representative of that person may, with the Court’s approval, compound that offence.

What result does compounding under Section 320 have?

The compounding of the offence shall have the same effect as an acquittal of the accused, as stated in Section 320(8).

References 


Students of Lawsikho courses regularly produce writing assignments and work on practical exercises as a part of their coursework and develop themselves in real-life practical skills.

LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals, and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join:

https://t.me/lawyerscommunity

Follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more amazing legal content.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here