Quality matters over quantity. This message was sent by the Bombay High Court while setting guidelines for a trial courts dealing in petty offences. The presiding officer of the trial court dealing in petty offences should verify whether the person standing in the witness box is an accused or not before handing out punishment or fine.
The court was asked to verify the basic fact while hearing a petition filed by one Kamlesh Palan who was directed to pay a fine of Rs 3,600 for an offence in which he was not named as an accused.
Palan, a resident of Thane and is an employee of M/s CM Star having its office at Opera House in south Mumbai. According to his lawyer Uday Warunjikar, another firm M/s Bhavesh Vijay Associates operated from the same premises, which was dissolved in 2000.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) initiated action against M/s Bhavesh Vijay Associates as they had failed to renew its partnership registration after 1998 as required under the Shops and Establishment Act. Besides, the firm had not displayed its name in Devnagiri script (Marathi).
In February 2004, when Palan was in office he served an intimation in writing asking him to appear before the Special Metropolitan Magistrate (SMM) at Girgaon on February 13, 2004. “He was forced to accept the intimation although he was not an accused or a witness in the case and hence had to appear before the SMM,” argued Warunjikar.
“Even before he could explain to Mr Madan, SMM that he had nothing to do with the case, the SMM told him that the fine would be minimum and if he goes on arguing, the quantum may increase,” alleged Warunjikar adding that Palan was asked to pay the fine within the court premises immediately or he would be taken in custody.
Madan in his affidavit in reply contended that the several matters involving petty offences are registered which needs to be disposed of within a short span of time. “In such cases, due to pressure of work, it is not possible to give a detailed hearing,” contended his affidavit.
Justice SC Dharmadhikari while observing that there is no compulsion on the presiding officer to complete the matter in the fixed morning hours, insisted that the presiding officer must satisfy himself about the identity of the person. Specially if the person contends that he was summoned merely because he was present at the premises, then it becomes the obligation of the SMM to verify. This could be done with the help of the court clerk, observed the court in its order.
This is necessary as trial of even petty offence can have serious consequences and the order of conviction and sentence will affect a person in several ways, stated Justice Dharmadhikari.
However, the court has not granted any relief to Palan as after attending the hearing, he paid the fine and did not deny the liability.
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