A recent judgment by the apex court of India in the case of Narinder Singh v. State of Punjab has been instrumental in removing the ambiguity in law. A law that gives the High Court (hereinafter referred as HC) inherent powers to quash proceedings on the basis of settlement between parties has emerged from this judgement. The judgment delivered appears to be progressive, as it has listed out the guidelines that should be followed by the HC while using its inherentpowers, thereby bringing about certainty in the law. This judgment is extraordinary for two reasons. Firstly, it explicitly enhances the power of the court to quash proceedings even if the offence falls in the non-compoundable category. Secondly, it enumerates a list of guidelines that explains how the three abstract conditions stated in section 482 of Criminal procedure Code could be met. The three conditions being: to give effect to any order under the Code, to prevent the abuse of the process of any court and to secure the ends of justice.
At the very outset, it is quintessential tounderstand the meaning of the terms ‘compoundable offences’ and ‘non compoundable offences’. ‘Compoundable offences’ are those kinds of offences, which do not require a court’s permission to quash the proceeding if compromise has been reached between the parties. However, ‘non-compoundable offences’ require the permission of the court to allow such a compromise between parties, whichinturn would lead to the acquittal of the accused. The very distinction is made on the ground that offences that are heinous and serious in nature are regarded as offences against the society at large and therefore acquittal in such cases has to be scrutinized before being granted. While the offences, which were not so heinous,are allowed sincethey are regarded as offences against an individual and if the aggrieved individual has agreed to compromise, it would be wise for the court to quash the proceedings.
The highlighting aspect of this case was that a non-compoundable offence was allowed to be quashed under the discretionary powers given to the HC (section 482 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973). We should take note that offences, which are considered to be compoundable, are given under section 320 of the Code and clause 9 of the same states that no offence shall be compounded except as provided by this section. In this case it was witnessed that the offence committed by the accused was outside the ambit of section 320. So, then the question arises, should the discretionary powers given to the HC be allowed to quash the proceeding of a non-compoundable offence under section 482? Does it not go against the letter of the law? Does this not infringe section 320 (9) of the Code?
To answer these questions it is essential to examine the guidelines laid down in this case. These guidelines enumerate principles that would direct the HC in using its discretionary powers. The very first guideline explains that there is a distinction between the powers of compounding of offences given to the court under section 320 and quashing the criminal proceedings by the HC in exercise of its inherent jurisdiction conferred upon it under section 482 of the Code. The distinction lies in its application. In case of the former, the court just checks if compounding in permissible under section 320, and if it is, the court is solely guided by the compromise between parties. However, in case of the latter, the court is guided by materials on record and not just the compromise being met, It checks whether the ends of justice would justify the exercise of power.Although the ultimate consequence of the two maybe the same. But the means to reach the end is different and therefore should be appreciated.
The second guiding principle reiterates the section itself giving out the two important objectives of such usage of power by the HC. First, being to secure the ends of justice and second to prevent the abuse of power of any court. The third guiding principles identifies when such powers should not used by the HC. Firstly, when the offence is not private in nature and has serious impact on society and secondly, when the offence involves serious and heinous offence. And lastly, even when offences are alleged to have been committed under special status it should not be quashed by the HC merely on the basis that compromise has been attained between parties.
While listing out the areas under which the HC should refrain from usingits discretionary powers, the forth-guiding principle expounds the core idea of this section. It states that the HC also has to check whether the possibility of conviction is remote or bleak and if the criminal proceeding is allowed to continue great oppression and extreme injustice would be caused to the accused. If the HC feels in consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, that such would be the case then it should quash the proceeding. So, it can be inferred from this principle that even if the offence is considered to be serious, the court may quash the proceedings if it is of the opinion that grave injustice would be caused by its continuance.. This principle gives of the taste of inherent powers. The power that court would decide according to its own discretion to avoid injustice. In my opinion, this principle super powers all the other principle asit makes it explicit that the discretion lies on the HC. And at the periphery it has coated it with conditions, which the court has to fulfill if a decision has to emerge.
The sixth guiding principle takes note of a very vital factor in such cases. The essentiality of time has been enumerated. It has elaborately explained at what stage such discretion should be used by the HC. There are foursituations given out: – firstly, when settlement is arrived immediately after the alleged commission of the offence and the matter is still under investigation. In such a case, the HC will be liberal in accepting the settlement and quashing the proceeding. The next situation is when the charges are framed, but evidence is still at the infancy stage, the HC should show considerable benevolence only after the prima facie assessment of material circumstances. Thirdly, when prosecution evidence is almost complete, and after the conclusion of the evidence, the matter is at the argument stage, the HC should refrain from exercising such powers. Lastly, when the conviction is already recorded at the trail court and the matter is at the appellate stage before the HC, mere compromise would not be a ground to accept.
These guiding principles try to give certainty to the law relating to the usage of inherent powers. It exhibits a core where the real essence of this section is upheld- the factor of it being discretionary in nature, which is seen in guiding principle no. 4. This core has layers of principles at the outer end. These principles are the guiding factors elaborately explained above. So, if the HC has to use its discretionary powers it has to fulfill the conditions of the layers at the outer end. Therefore, in my opinion this judgment is one-step forward and making law more reasonable to understand.
(2014) 6 SCC 466 Prevention of Corruption Act or Offence committed by public servants while working in that capacity
By Dipti Srivastava