This article is written by Dnyaneshwari Patil, from RTMNU Babasaheb Ambedkar College of Law, Nagpur. In this, she analyses the judgement passed by the Delhi High Court in Umair vs State regarding the inherent power of the High Court and recent Supreme Court judgements on similar matters.
The inherent power of the High court under Section 482 of the Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973, is extraordinary and needs to be exercised with great caution, care, and circumspection before undertaking the scrutinisation of the complaint/FIR/charge-sheet in deciding whether the case falls under exceptional circumstances. Section 307, which is an attempt to murder, is a non-compoundable offence. Non-compoundable offences are more severe and grave in nature in which both the parties and the society at large are affected. In this, the accused cannot be allowed to be free with some settlements. In Mohammed Umair v. State and Anr (2021), the impugned question was whether the High Court of Delhi could exercise its jurisdiction under Section 482 Cr. P.C to quash the FIR on the ground that the parties have entered into a compromise.
Facts of the case
When the accused was disputing with his mother, the complainant urged him not to argue with his mother; however, the accused began abusing and assaulting the complainant and fought with him. It was alleged that the accused slapped the complainant, and when the crowd gathered around them, the accused threatened the complainant and went to his home. It was alleged that the accused stabbed the complainant in the stomach. According to the MLC doctor, the current case is one of a physical attack with a reported stab wound in the abdomen. The incident happened near the home address. A charge sheet has been filed against the complainant mentioning that he has sustained severe injuries. Later, the accused/petitioner was granted bail. This petition was filed on the pretext that the parties had agreed to settle their issues after the engagement of their parents and well-wishers. A settlement deed was also filed.
The decision of the Court
Putting reliance on the case of Gian Singh v. the State of Punjab (2012), in which the power to quash an FIR/complaint, based on a compromise reached between the parties, by the High Court under Section 482 Cr. P.C was held in affirmative. It quoted that, “Inherent power is of wide plenitude with no statutory limitation, but it has to be exercised in accord with the guideline engrafted in such power viz:
(i) To secure the ends of justice, or
(ii) To prevent abuse of the process of any court.
In what cases power to quash the criminal proceeding or complaint or FIR may be exercised where the offender and the victim have settled their dispute would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case, and no category can be prescribed.”
The court took into consideration that the accused was a 21-year-old adult, having a whole life before him, without any criminal antecedent, and he had not absconded. After the perusal of the charge sheet, it was found that the complainant slapped the petitioner. Consequently, the petitioner felt insulted and therefore, he took a knife from a vegetable vendor and stabbed the complainant in anger. Both the parties live in the same area. The accused have already spent a month in custody. Thus, the court held that they are inclined to quash the FIR under Section 482 as the 21 years old adult has an entire life ahead of him, and the parties have entered into a settlement.
The Court referred to various judgements, including the case of Gian Singh v. The State of Punjab (2012). In the said judgement, the Court held for refraining from quashing criminal proceedings if the offence committed is of a serious nature or when the public interest is involved. However, if the offence is of civil nature, or if the possibility of the conviction is remote and the continuation of the proceedings will bring about grave injustice to the accused, then the High Court may quash the criminal proceeding.
The High Court referred to the case of State of Rajasthan v. Shambhu Kewat (2013), where it was observed that the scope of Section 320 and 482 Cr. P.C. are both similar and different. There are both similarities and differences between compounding and quashing of cases on the basis of compromise, and therefore the High Court has the sound discretionary power to quash the criminal proceeding in view of a compromise. The power under 320 is cribbed, cabined, and confined, whereas Section 482 is vast, unparalleled, and paramount. The Criminal court power while compounding an offence is limited by Section 320 of Cr. P.C., and is guided totally through it, while the material on record drives the inherent power of the High Court to form an opinion on whether or not to quash a criminal complaint. The exercising of this power is to meet the ends of justice, even though the ultimate effect of this may be acquittal or dismissal of an indictment.
Similarly, in Narinder Singh v. the State of Punjab (2014), the Supreme Court held affirmative that the High Court can quash the criminal proceedings in case of non-compoundable offences in exercising its inherent power under Section 482 of the Cr.P.C. It took into consideration the Gian Singh Case. However, it further held that the inherent power should be used cautiously. Even if the offence under Section 307 is severe, the court makes sure whether the incorporation of Section 307 is for the namesake or there is adequate evidence to show it.
Guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court
In the State of M.P. v. Laxmi Narayan (2019), the larger bench of the Supreme Court laid down specific guidelines by which the High Court can settle the disputes between the parties while exercising power under Section 482.
Whether the offence committed is a crime against the society or an individual
The inherent power of the High court should not be exercised in those prosecutions where the offences are of severe nature, such as murder, rape, dacoity, etc., or offences of extreme mental depravity. These offences are not private but have an immense impact on society at large.
Whether the offences are predominantly civil in nature or criminal in nature
Those criminal cases that are primarily civil in nature, such as conflict arising out of commercial transactions, or family disputes, or marital relationships should be quashed if the parties have settled the dispute among themselves.
Heinous and serious offences
The High Court should refrain from quashing criminal proceedings of severe and heinous crimes. Offences under Section 307 of the IPC fall under this category. However, the decision should not be rested merely on the fact that the offence falls under Section 307 of the IPC but whether the incorporation of Section 307 is solely for namesake or there was substantial evidence to prove it. Thus, regarding this, the High Court looks into the injury’s nature, such as whether the injury is on the vital organ or not, nature of the weapon used, etc. Although the inherent power can be exercised only after the evidence is collected through investigation and the charge sheet is filed, not when the matter is still under investigation. Whether the chances of prosecution are strong or bleak should also be a guiding factor in deciding the impugned question.
The High Court must refrain from quashing the criminal proceedings if the offences fall under a special statute like the Prevention of Corruption Act,(1988), or are committed by the public servant while working in that capacity.
Conduct and antecedent of the accused
The offences conducted are private in nature and do not affect society at large. In this, the court should take into consideration the antecedent of the accused, the conduct of the accused, whether the accused absconded, if he did, then why did he abscond? How did the accused manage to enter into the settlement in the first place? etc.
Recent judgements passed by the Supreme Court on a similar subject
State of Madhya Pradesh v. Kalyan Singh (2019)
In this case, the state filed an application against the High Court, which ordered the quashing of a criminal proceeding against an accused under Section 307, 294 and Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code. The Supreme Court held that the High Court made a grave mistake in quashing the criminal proceeding under Section 482 by taking note of the accused’s criminal background. Further, it reiterated the observations made in Gulab Das and Ors. Vs State of Madhya Pradesh (2011), where it was held that despite the settlement between the parties, the offences that are not compoundable under Section 320 Cr. P.C cannot be allowed to be compounded.
Ramawatar v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2021)
In this case, a civil dispute arose between the appellant and the complainant over the ownership and possessory rights of a piece of land. Further, it took an ugly turn, and the appellant allegedly threw a brick on the complainant and made slur remarks on her caste. Thus the complainant filed an FIR under the Schedule Caste and the Scheduled Tribes ( Prevention of Atrocities Act ), 1989 read with Section 34 of IPC. The trial court convicted the accused and sentenced him to undergo imprisonment for six months along with a 1000 Rs fine. The appellant challenged the conviction before the High Court; however, the same was dismissed. Before the Supreme Court, it was submitted that the matter had been settled between the parties; further, an application was filed for compromise.
The impugned question raised was whether criminal proceedings arising out of Scheduled Caste and the Scheduled Tribes ( Prevention of Atrocities Act ), 1989, can be quashed, invoking the power under Section 482 Cr.P.C. and Article 142. It was held that the sole fact that the offence falls under the special statute would not refrain the High Court from exercising power under Section 482 of Cr.P.C. and Article 142 of the Constitution. The Court held that when the offence is of private or civil nature and is not committed due to the caste of the victim, even though the offence comes under the SC/ST Act, and further also the Court believes that the objectives of the Act would not be in contravention even if the impugned offence goes unpunished, then the Court can consider quashing under the said Section.
The Judgement passed by the High Court in Umair vs State is not bad in itself. The Court took into consideration the young age of the accused, who has a whole life waiting for him. However, the inherent power should be used with caution while quashing the FIR/charge-sheet of criminal proceedings, especially non-compoundable offences when the parties have entered into a compromise. In the above case, the accused, in a fit of anger, allegedly stabbed the victim with a knife. The act itself is a severe step taken by the accused in a fit of rage. However, a person capable of stabbing a person in the abdomen due to which the victim suffered severe injuries should not be allowed to be set free after a month of staying in custody. By considering all the facts the court, instead of quashing the criminal proceedings, Court could have decreased the quantum of the punishment given to the accused.
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