Power of High Court to quash criminal proceedings:

Inherent powers of High Courts:

Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, Section 482 saves inherent powers of High Courts in India.

More than 65 years back, in Emperor v. Khwaja Nazir Ahmed[6], it was observed by the Privy Council that Section 561A (corresponding to Section 482 of the Code) had not given increased powers to the Court which it did not possess before that section was enacted. It was observed, `The section gives no new powers, it only provides that those which the court already inherently possess shall be preserved and is inserted lest, as their Lordships think, it should be considered that the only powers possessed by the court are those expressly conferred by the Criminal Procedure Code and that no inherent power had survived the passing of the Code’.

Power to compound the offence:

(Compounding means compromise or settlement)

Section 320 of the Criminal Procedure Code articulates public policy with regard to the compounding of offences. It catalogues the offences punishable under IPC which may be compounded by the parties without permission of the Court and the composition of certain offences with the permission of the court. The offences punishable under the special statutes are not covered by Section 320. When an offence is compoundable under Section 320, abatement of such offence or an attempt to commit such offence or where the accused is liable under Section 34 or 149 of the IPC can also be compounded in the same manner. A person who is under 18 years of age or is an idiot or a lunatic is not competent to contract compounding of offence but the same can be done on his behalf with the permission of the court. If a person is otherwise competent to compound an offence is dead, his legal representatives may also compound the offence with the permission of the court. Where the accused has been committed for trial or he has been convicted and the appeal is pending, composition can only be done with the leave of the court to which he has been committed or with the leave of the appeal court, as the case may be. The revisional court is also competent to allow any person to compound any offence who is competent to compound. The consequence of the composition of an offence is acquittal of the accused. Sub-section (9) of Section 320 mandates that no offence shall be compounded except as provided by this Section. Obviously, in view thereof the composition of an offence has to be in accord with Section 320 and in no other manner.

Compounding is not settlement:

Quashing of offence or criminal proceedings on the ground of settlement between an offender and victim is not the same thing as compounding of offence. They are different and not interchangeable. Strictly speaking, the power of compounding of offences given to a court under Section 320 is materially different from the quashing of criminal proceedings by the High Court in exercise of its inherent jurisdiction. In compounding of offences, power of a criminal court is circumscribed by the provisions contained in Section 320 and the court is guided solely and squarely thereby while, on the other hand, the formation of opinion by the High Court for quashing a criminal offence or criminal proceeding or criminal complaint is guided by the material on record as to whether the ends of justice would justify such exercise of power although the ultimate consequence may be acquittal or dismissal of indictment.

Quashing is permissible:

Where High Court quashes a criminal proceeding having regard to the fact that dispute between the offender and victim has been settled although offences are not compoundable, it does so as in its opinion, continuation of criminal proceedings will be an exercise in futility and justice in the case demands that the dispute between the parties is put to an end and peace is restored; securing the ends of justice being the ultimate guiding factor. No doubt, crimes are acts which have harmful effect on the public and consist in wrong doing that seriously endangers and threatens well-being of society and it is not safe to leave the crime- doer only because he and the victim have settled the dispute amicably or that the victim has been paid compensation, yet certain crimes have been made compoundable in law, with or without permission of the Court. In respect of serious offences like murder, rape, dacoity, etc; or other offences of mental depravity under IPC or offences of moral turpitude under special statutes, like Prevention of Corruption Act or the offences committed by public servants while working in that capacity, the settlement between offender and victim can have no legal sanction at all. However, certain offences which overwhelmingly and predominantly bear civil flavour having arisen out of civil, mercantile, commercial, financial, partnership or such like transactions or the offences arising out of matrimony, particularly relating to dowry, etc. or the family dispute, where the wrong is basically to victim and the offender and victim have settled all disputes between them amicably, irrespective of the fact that such offences have not been made compoundable, the High Court may within the framework of its inherent power, quash the criminal proceeding or criminal complaint or F.I.R if it is satisfied that on the face of such settlement, there is hardly any likelihood of offender being convicted and by not quashing the criminal proceedings, justice shall be casualty and ends of justice shall be defeated. The above list is illustrative and not exhaustive. Each case will depend on its own facts and no hard and fast category can be prescribed.

Considerations for quashing:

Inherent power is of wide plenitude with no statutory limitation but it has to be exercised in accord with the guideline engrafted in such power viz; (i) to secure the ends of justice or (ii) to prevent abuse of the process of any Court. In what cases power to quash the criminal proceeding or complaint or F.I.R may be exercised where the offender and victim have settled their dispute would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case and no category can be prescribed. However, before exercise of such power, the High Court must have due regard to the nature and gravity of the crime. Heinous and serious offences of mental depravity or offences like murder, rape, dacoity, etc. cannot be fittingly quashed even though the victim or victim’s family and the offender have settled the dispute. Such offences are not private in nature and have serious impact on society. Similarly, any compromise between the victim and offender in relation to the offences under special statutes like Prevention of Corruption Act or the offences committed by public servants while working in that capacity etc; cannot provide for any basis for quashing criminal proceedings involving such offences. But the criminal cases having overwhelmingly and pre-dominatingly civil flavour stand on different footing for the purposes of quashing, particularly the offences arising from commercial, financial, mercantile, civil, partnership or such like transactions or the offences arising out of matrimony relating to dowry, etc. or the family disputes where the wrong is basically private or personal in nature and the parties have resolved their entire dispute. In this category of cases, High Court may quash criminal proceedings if in its view, because of the compromise between the offender and victim, the possibility of conviction is remote and bleak and continuation of criminal case would put accused to great oppression and prejudice and extreme injustice would be caused to him by not quashing the criminal case despite full and complete settlement and compromise with the victim. In other words, the High Court must consider whether it would be unfair or contrary to the interest of justice to continue with the criminal proceeding or continuation of the criminal proceeding would tantamount to abuse of process of law despite settlement and compromise between the victim and wrongdoer and whether to secure the ends of justice, it is appropriate that criminal case is put to an end and if the answer to the above question(s) is in affirmative, the High Court shall be well within its jurisdiction to quash the criminal proceeding.

[Source: Gian Singh v. State Of Punjab (SC)]

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