Prosecution for cheating and dishonour of cheque:
Principle of Double Jeopardy:
Double jeopardy or Autrefois Acquit is the name of doctrine which prohibits second trial of an acquitted accused. But it does not prohibit a second trial, on same facts, but for an offence, different from previous prosecution.
The statutes involved: General Clauses Act: Section 26; IPC: Section 420; Negotiable Instruments Act: Section 138; Criminal Procedure Code: Section 300.
Prosecution for dishonour of cheque:
However there appears to be conflict of opinion in two different benches of Supreme Court of India. This position was less complicated until the Supreme Court of India, quashed the criminal proceedings under Sections 406/420 IPC which were launched during the pendency of proceedings u/s 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act for dishonour of cheque, holding that it would amount to abuse of process of law. It was observed.
“…..A finance company also advances short term loans. In that case it is essentially a commercial transaction. After first two cheques were dishonoured two cheques were again issued, which again were dishonoured resulting in filing of complaint under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act. None of the respondents has been able to explain as to why offences under Sections 406/420, I.P.C. were not added in the complaint filed under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act and why resort was had to filing of a separate First Information Report. Certain motive has been attributed to the Investigating Officer but we think we need not go into that. There is also no answer as to why investigation against three other directors was still stated to be pending when same role is assigned to all the accused. In the FIR it is Sukhvender Singh, who first approached the complainant, but later it is Mukender Singh. There is no answer as to why there are two different names. As to who are the directors of Ganga Automobiles Ltd. could have been easily found by the complainant after going through the records of Register of Companies and also about its status. As noted above, in the subsequent statement by the complainant he does not assign any role to the first appellant. The allegation that in the first instance three persons contacted the complainant company, who told the complainant of other Directors with whom the complainant conversed on telephone appears to be rather improbable.
14. We agree with the submission of the appellants that the whole attempt of the complainant is evidently to rope in all the members of the family particularly who are the parents of the Managing Director of Ganga Automobiles Ltd. In the instant criminal case without regard to their role or participation in the alleged offences with a sole purpose of getting the loan due to the Finance Company by browbeating and tyrannizing the appellants of criminal prosecution. A criminal complaint under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act is already pending against the appellants and other accused. They would suffer the consequences if offence under Section 138 is proved against them. In any case there is no occasion for the complainant to prosecute the appellants under Sections 406/420, I.P.C. and in his doing so it is clearly an abuse of the process of law….”
Thus the above case involved addition of charge of cheating in a prosecution pending for dishonour of cheque. However in Kolla Veera Raghav Rao v. Gorantla Venkateswara Rao, it was held that once the conviction under Section 138 of N.I. Act has been recorded, the question of trying a same person under Section 420 IPC or any other provision of IPC or any other statute is not permissible being hit by Article 20(2) of the Constitution and Section 300(1) Cr.P.C. It was held:
“Thus, it can be seen that Section 300(1) of Cr.P.C. is wider than Article 20(2) of the Constitution. While, Article 20(2) of the Constitution only states that ‘no one can be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once’, Section 300(1) of Cr.P.C. states that no one can be tried and convicted for the same offence or even for a different offence but on the same facts. In the present case, although the offences are different but the facts are the same. Hence, Section 300(1) of Cr.P.C. applies. Consequently, the prosecution under Section 420, IPC was barred by Section 300(1) of Cr.P.C”
[Source: Kolla Veera Raghav Rao v. Gorantla Venkateswara Rao, (2011) 2 SCC 703]
Now the same question arose once again in Sangeetaben Mahendrabhai Patel‘ case unfortunately without adverting to the difference of scope of Section 300 of Cr. P.C., now it has been held that after prosecution under 138 of NI Act, a subsequent prosecution under section 420 of IPC would be maintainable.
“……..in order to attract the provisions of Article 20(2) of the Constitution i.e. doctrine of autrefois acquit or Section 300 Cr.P.C. or Section 71 IPC or Section 26 of General Clauses Act, ingredients of the offences in the earlier case as well as in the latter case must be the same and not different. The test to ascertain whether the two offences are the same is not identity of the allegations but the identity of the ingredients of the offence. Motive for committing offence cannot be termed as ingredients of offences to determine the issue. The plea of autrefois acquit is not proved unless it is shown that the judgment of acquittal in the previous charge necessarily involves an acquittal of the latter charge…….
…………….the appellant had been tried earlier for the offences punishable under the provisions of Section 138 N.I. Act and the case is sub judice before the High Court. In the instant case, he is involved under Sections 406/420 read with Section 114 IPC. In the prosecution under Section 138 N.I. Act, the mens rea i.e. fraudulent or dishonest intention at the time of issuance of cheque is not required to be proved. However, in the case under IPC involved herein, the issue of mens rea may be relevant. The offence punishable under Section 420 IPC is a serious one as the sentence of 7 years can be imposed. In the case under N.I. Act, there is a legal presumption that the cheque had been issued for discharging the antecedent liability and that presumption can be rebutted only by the person who draws the cheque. Such a requirement is not there in the offences under IPC. In the case under N.I. Act, if a fine is imposed, it is to be adjusted to meet the legally enforceable liability. There cannot be such a requirement in the offences under IPC. The case under N.I. Act can only be initiated by filing a complaint. However, in a case under the IPC such a condition is not necessary.
28. There may be some overlapping of facts in both the cases but ingredients of offences are entirely different. Thus, the subsequent case is not barred by any of the aforesaid statutory provisions.”
Now we are left in a piquant situation. Two judgments relying upon two different lines of reasoning. One relying upon the similarity of the facts of case and other relying upon the difference in ingredients of offence.