A little more than a month ago, the Supreme Court in Prof. RK Vijaysarathy vs. Sudha Sitaramam restated that a High Court in exercising jurisdiction under section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), can and must examine whether the matter brought forward before it is essentially of a civil nature and has instead been given a cloak of a criminal offence. In laying down the landmark judgment, the SC, once again urged the High Courts to invoke the inherent powers granted to them under section 482 of the Code to remove injustice and exercise the said jurisdiction with care.
Facts of the Case
The primary issue in the present case revolves around the amount of Rs. 20 lakhs transferred by Rajiv (son of the appellant) to the bank account of the first respondent (his mother-in-law) in February 2010. Upon the breakdown of marital relations, the appellant filed a civil suit for the recovery of money against his mother-in-law for the return of the said amount. In response to the same, the first respondent filed a criminal complaint alleging that the said amount had been returned in cash (with interest due) to the appellants and that they did not issue a receipt at the time. Alleging that the appellants had colluded to siphon off the money, the respondents stated that the civil suit filed by the appellants was without merit. Thereafter, an FIR was registered under sections 405, 406, 415 and 420 read with section 34 of the Penal Code. The Karnataka High Court refused to quash the complaint and the FIR, following which the appellants filed the present appeal in the SC.
Upon examination, the SC bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta, however, observed that the High Court, in exercising its jurisdiction under section 482 of the CrPC, was required to examine whether the averments in the petition constitute ingredients necessary for an offence alleged under the IPC. In criminal proceedings where the allegations made in the complaint do not disclose the commission of such an offence under the Penal Code, the proceedings would be liable to be quashed. Furthermore, the complaint must be examined as a whole, but without examining the merits of the allegations. A complaint is also liable to be quashed where there appears to be an abuse of the process of the court and when criminal proceedings are found to have been initiated with mala fide intentions.
Section 482 of CrPC and why is it significant?
This provision was added by the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act of 1923, to enable the High Courts to render complete and effective justice in cases where inherent illegality of matters was apparent when taken on their face. Accordingly, as the provision lays down, the High Court can exercise this jurisdiction under three circumstances:
- To give effect to an order under CrPC;
- To prevent abuse of the process of the court; and
- To secure the ends of justice
The same has also been held by the Supreme Court in the case of State of Karnataka vs. Muniswami (AIR 1977 SC 1489) reminding High Courts of their inherent judicial as well as discretionary powers they are required to exercise to prevent miscarriage of justice depending on the facts of the case. This includes quashing of FIR (even where it has culminated in a charge sheet), investigation or malafide criminal proceedings pending before the HC or courts subordinate to it, and while there are no limitations or stipulations imposed upon it by any other provision of the Code, the HC must not exercise this inherent jurisdiction if the same is found to be expressly barred by the law as per any other provision of the Code, as was held in Madhu Limaye v. Maharashtra.
It may be noted that these are discretionary powers which must be exercised parsimoniously and with caution, especially where there is no recourse available to the litigant. If however, there is an alternative remedy provided as per the statute and the litigant has not availed of the same, the High Court may not exercise its powers under s.482.
Additionally, s.482 can in no manner be invoked by High Courts for fact-finding, or staying the process of legitimate criminal trials, as was held by the SC in State of Bihar and another v. K.J.D. Singh.
Section 482 of the Code, as is observed, has a wide ambit which the courts can use to deliver real, substantial justice so that concerned citizens are not harassed due to illegal prosecution. Nonetheless, the scope of this provision is admittedly, too wide and is susceptible to being misused by litigants seeking to institute revenge proceedings. And although the provision has undergone changes and refinement in the past decades, the application of the law will have to be weighed carefully, and the facts examined in totality by the HCs so that miscarriage of justice is prevented. This is a tricky ground to cover and needs to be assessed on a case-to-case basis.