Constitutional court can quash criminal proceedings even in non-compoundable offences: Supreme Court

The bench, comprising chief justice of India NV Ramana and Justice Surya Kant, held that the power of the constitutional courts in quashing criminal cases cannot be constricted by Section 320 of the CrPC that defines which offences can be settled through compromise and which cannot
The Supreme Court ruled that a constitutional court has the power to quash criminal proceedings after parties arrive at a compromise even in cases that cannot be settled ordinarily under the law. (Archive)
The Supreme Court ruled that a constitutional court has the power to quash criminal proceedings after parties arrive at a compromise even in cases that cannot be settled ordinarily under the law. (Archive)
Published on Sep 30, 2021 12:32 AM IST
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that a constitutional court has the power to quash criminal proceedings after parties arrive at a compromise even in cases that cannot be settled ordinarily under the law.

A bench, headed by chief justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana, underscored the power of the Supreme Court under Article 142 (authority to issue orders to do complete justice) and the power of a high court under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) (inherent powers of a high court to pass orders to secure the ends of justice).

The bench, which also included Justice Surya Kant, held that the power of the constitutional courts in quashing criminal cases cannot be constricted by Section 320 of the CrPC that defines which offences can be settled through compromise and which cannot.

Section 320 CrPC enlists less serious offences such as simple assault, theft, trespass, mischief, cheating and defamation that can be compounded (settled) after the complainant enters into a compromise with the accused, to the satisfaction of the court.

The top court’s judgment on Wednesday clarifies that the power of the Supreme Court or a high court cannot be limited to the offences enumerated under Section 320 CrPC and that the constitutional courts, owing to their “extraordinary power”, can drop charges even in non-compoundable offences to secure complete justice.

“In doing so, due regard must be given to the overarching objective of sentencing in the criminal justice system, which is grounded on the sub­lime philosophy of maintenance of peace of the collective and that the rationale of placing an individual behind bars is aimed at his reformation,” the bench held as it laid down the common legal propositions in two separate criminal cases.

The court added that criminal proceedings involving non-heinous offences or where the offences are predominantly private in nature can be annulled irrespective of the fact that trial has already been concluded or appeal stands dismissed against conviction.

“Handing out punishment is not the sole form of delivering justice. Societal method of applying laws evenly is always subject to lawful exceptions,” the bench noted, striking a word of caution that whenever a compromise is arrived at after conviction of an accused, courts remain circumspect and should take into account conduct of the accused, before and after the incident.

The judgment, authored by justice Kant on behalf of the bench, also said that such powers of wide amplitude ought to be exercised carefully also bearing in mind nature and effect of the offence on the society; seriousness of the injury; voluntary nature of compromise between the accused and the victim and such other relevant considerations.

At the same time, the court added, it would send a wrong signal to the society if courts quash cases involving grave offences of moral turpitude; or that may have a harmful effect on the social and moral fabric of the society; or those concerning public policy.

In light of the ruling, the court set aside conviction of accused in both the criminal cases before it and dropped charges like grievous hurt and attempted murder after taking note of the compromise between the accused and the complainants.

It noted that the accused and the complainants in the two cases are residents of the same village or work in close vicinity, and hence, the quashing of criminal proceedings will only advance peace, harmony and fellowship. Further, it noted that offences involved in the appeals can be categorised as purely personal or having overtones of criminal proceedings of private nature.

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Saturday, December 04, 2021