In its judgement dated September 29, 2021, the Supreme Court observed that a High Court can quash criminal proceedings in exercise of its inherent powers under Section 482 Cr.P.C., even if the offences are non-compoundable and the compromise is reached after conviction.
The bench headed by CJI NV Ramana added that criminal proceedings involving non-heinous offences or where the offences are predominantly of a private nature, can be quashed irrespective of the fact that trial has already been concluded or appeal stands dismissed against conviction.
The accused in the present case were convicted under Section 326 of the Indian Penal Code. In their revision petition, they sought compounding of offence in light of the compromise. The High Court rejected their plea on the ground that the offences are non-compoundable.
According to the top court, where compromise is struck post-conviction, the High Court ought to exercise such discretion with rectitude, keeping in view the circumstances surrounding the incident.
In appeal, the apex court bench also comprising Justice Surya Kant noted the scope of Section 320 CrPC :
11. True it is that offences which are ‘non-compoundable’ cannot be compounded by a criminal court in purported exercise of its powers under Section 320 Cr.P.C. Any such attempt by the court would amount to alteration, addition and modification of Section 320 Cr.P.C, which is the exclusive domain of Legislature.
There is no patent or latent ambiguity in the language of Section 320 Cr.P.C., which may justify its wider interpretation and include such offences in the docket of ‘compoundable’ offences which have been consciously kept out as non-compoundable.
Nevertheless, the limited jurisdiction to compound an offence within the framework of Section 320 Cr.P.C. is not an embargo against invoking inherent powers by the High Court vested in it under Section 482 Cr.P.C. The High Court, keeping in view the peculiar facts and circumstances of a case and for justifiable reasons can press Section 482 Cr.P.C. in aid to prevent abuse of the process of any Court and/or to secure the ends of justice.
However, the court observed that the High Court could quash such proceedings in exercise of its inherent powers under Section 482 Cr.P.C., even if the offences are non-compoundable.
The Supreme Court thus made the below observations:
Consequential effects of the offence beyond the body of an individual:
12…The High Court can indubitably evaluate the consequential effects of the offence beyond the body of an individual and thereafter adopt a pragmatic approach, to ensure that the felony, even if goes unpunished, does not tinker with or paralyse the very object of the administration of criminal justice system.
Handing out punishment is not the sole form of delivering justice:
13. It appears to us that criminal proceedings involving non-heinous offences or where the offences are predominantly of a private 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. It goes without saying, that the cases where compromise is struck post conviction, the High Court ought to exercise such discretion with rectitude, keeping in view the circumstances surrounding the incident, the fashion in which the compromise has been arrived at, and with due regard to the nature and seriousness of the offence, besides the conduct of the accused, before and after the incidence.
A restrictive construction of inherent powers under Section 482 Cr.P.C. may lead to rigid or specious justice:
13…The touchstone for exercising the extraordinary power under Section 482 Cr.P.C. would be to secure the ends of justice. There can be no hard and fast line constricting the power of the High Court to do substantial justice.
A restrictive construction of inherent powers under Section 482 Cr.P.C. may lead to rigid or specious justice, which in the given facts and circumstances of a case, may rather lead to grave injustice. On the other hand, in cases where heinous offences have been proved against perpetrators, no such benefit ought to be extended
Let no guilty man escape, if it can be avoided:
14. In other words, grave or serious offences or offences which involve moral turpitude or have a harmful effect on the social and moral fabric of the society or involve matters concerning public policy, cannot be construed betwixt two individuals or groups only, for such offences have the potential to impact the society at large.
Effacing abominable offences through quashing process would not only send a wrong signal to the community but may also accord an undue benefit to unscrupulous habitual or professional offenders, who can secure a ‘settlement’ through duress, threats, social boycotts, bribes or other dubious means. It is well said that “let no guilty man escape, if it can be avoided.”
Jurisdiction exercisable under Article 142 of the Constitution embraces this Court with scopious powers to quash criminal proceedings also:
Referring to Article 142 of the Constitution, the court observed :
18. It is now a well crystallised axiom that the plenary jurisdiction of this Court to impart complete justice under Article 142 cannot ipso facto be limited or restricted by ordinary statutory provisions. It is also noteworthy that even in the absence of an express provision akin to Section 482 Cr.P.C. conferring powers on the Supreme Court to abrogate and set aside criminal proceedings, the jurisdiction exercisable under Article 142 of the Constitution embraces this Court with scopious powers to quash criminal proceedings also, so as 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.
While allowing the appeal, court therefore concluded:
19. We thus sum up and hold that as opposed to Section 320 Cr.P.C. where the Court is squarely guided by the compromise between the parties in respect of offences ‘compoundable’ within the statutory framework, the extraordinary power enjoined upon a High Court under Section 482 Cr.P.C. or vested in this Court under Article 142 of the Constitution, can be invoked beyond the metes and bounds of Section 320 Cr.P.C.
Nonetheless, we reiterate that such powers of wide amplitude ought to be exercised carefully in the context of quashing criminal proceedings, bearing in mind: (i) Nature and effect of the offence on the conscious of the society; (ii) Seriousness of the injury, if any; (iii) Voluntary nature of compromise between the accused and the victim; & (iv) Conduct of the accused persons, prior to and after the occurrence of the purported offence and/or other relevant considerations.
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