IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.686/2014
(arising out of S.L.P.(Criminal) No.9547 of 2013)
Narinder Singh & Ors. ……Appellants
State of Punjab & Anr. …Respondents
J U D G M E N T
1. The present Special Leave Petition has been preferred against the impugned judgment/final order dated 8.10.2013 passed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana at Chandigarh in Criminal Miscellaneous Petition No.27343/2013. It was a petition under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (hereinafter referred to as the “Code”) for quashing of FIR No.121/14.7.2010 registered under Sections 307/324/323/34,IPC, on the basis of compromise dated 22.7.2013 entered into between the petitioners ( who are accused in the said FIR) and respondent No.2 (who is the complainant). The High Court has refused to exercise its extraordinary discretion invoking the provisions of Section 482 of the Code on the ground that four injuries were suffered by the complainant and as per the opinion of the Doctor, injury No.3 were serious in nature. The High Court, thus, refused to accept the compromise entered into between the parties, the effect whereof would be that the petitioners would face trial in the said FIR.
2. Leave granted.
3. We have heard counsel for the parties at length.
4. It may be stated at the outset that the petitioners herein, who are three in number, have been charged under various provisions of the IPC including for committing offence punishable under Section 307, IPC i.e. attempt to commit murder. FIR No.121/14.7.2010 was registered.
In the aforesaid FIR, the allegations against the petitioners are that on 9.7.2010 at 7.00 A.M. while respondent No.2 was going on his motorcycle to bring diesel from village Lapoke, Jasbir Singh, Narinder Singh both sons of Baldev Singh and Baldev Singh son of Lakha Singh attacked him and injured him. Respondent No.2 was admitted in Shri Guru Nanak Dev Hospital, Amritsar. After examination the doctor found four injuries on his person. Injury No.1 to 3 are with sharp edged weapons and injury No.4 is simple. From the statement of injured and MLR’s report, an FIR under sections 323/324/34 IPC was registered.
After X-ray report relating to injury No.3, section 307 IPC was added in the FIR
5. After the completion of investigation, challan has been presented in the Court against the petitioners and charges have also been framed. Now the case is pending before the Ld.Trial Court, Amritsar, for evidence.
6. During the pendency of trial proceedings, the matter has been compromised between the petitioners as well as the private respondent with the intervention of the Panchayat on 12.07.2013. It is clear from the above that three years after the incident, the parties compromised the matter with intervention of the Panchayat of the village.
7. It is on the basis of this compromise, the petitioners moved aforesaid criminal petition under section 482 of the Code for quashing of the said FIR. As per the petitioners, the parties have settled the matter, as they have decided to keep harmony between them to enable them to live with peace and love. The compromise records that they have no grudge against each other and the complainant has specifically agreed that he has no objection if the FIR in question is quashed.
Further, both the parties have undertaken not to indulge in any litigation against each other and withdraw all the complaints pending between the parties before the court. As they do not intend to proceed with any criminal case against each other, on that basis the submission of the petitioners before the High Court was that the continuance of the criminal proceedings in the aforesaid FIR will be a futile exercise and mere wastage of precious time of the court as well as investigating agencies.
8. The aforesaid submission, however, did not impress the High Court as the medical report depicts the injuries to be of grievous nature. The question for consideration, in these circumstances, is as to whether the court should have accepted the compromise arrived at between the parties and quash the FIR as well as criminal proceedings pending against the petitioner.
9. The ld. counsel for the State has supported the aforesaid verdict of the High Court arguing that since offence under Section 307 is non-compoundable, the respondents could not have been acquitted only because of the reason that there was a compromise/settlement between the parties. In support, the learned counsel for the respondent-State has relied upon the judgment of this Court in the case of Rajendra Harakchand Bhandari vs. State of Maharashtra (2011) 13 SCC 311 wherein this Court held that since offence under Section 307 is not compoundable, even when the parties had settled the matter, compounding of the offence was out of question. Said settlement along with other extenuating circumstances was only taken as the ground for reduction of the sentence in the following manner:
“We must immediately state that the offence under Section 307 is not compoundable in terms of Section 320(9) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and, therefore, compounding of the offence in the present case is out of question.
However, the circumstances pointed out by the learned Senior Counsel do persuade us for a lenient view in regard to the sentence. The incident occurred on 17.5.1991 and it is almost twenty years since then. The appellants are agriculturists by occupation and have no previous criminal background. There has been reconciliation amongst parties; the relations between the appellants and the victim have become cordial and prior to the appellants’ surrender, the parties have been living peacefully in the village. The appellants have already undergone the sentence of more than two-and-a half years.
Having regard to those circumstances, we are satisfied that ends of justice will be met if the substantive sentence awarded to the appellants is reduced to the period already undergone while maintaining the amount of fine.
Consequently, while confirming the conviction of the appellants for the offences punishable under Section 307 read with Section 34, Section 332 read with Section 34 and Section 353 read with Section 34, the substantive sentence awarded to them by the High Court is reduced to the period already undergone. The fine amount and the default stipulation remain as it is.”
10. The learned counsel for the appellant, on the other hand, submitted that merely because an offence is non-compoundable under Section 320 of the Code would not mean that the High Court is denuded of its power to quash the proceedings in exercising its jurisdiction under Section 482 of the Cr.P.C. He argued that Section 320(9) of the Code cannot limit or affect the power of the High Court under Section 482 of the Cr.P.C. Such a power is recognized by the Supreme Court in catena of judgments. He further submitted that having regard to the circumstances in the present case where the fight had occurred on the spot in the heat of the moment inasmuch as both sides were verbally fighting when the petitioners had struck the victim, this assault was more of a crime against the individual than against the society at large. He further submitted that this Court in Dimpey Gujral v. Union Territory through Administrator 2012 AIR SCW 5333 had quashed the FIR registered under sections 147,148,149,323,307,452 and 506 of the IPC.
11. We find that there are cases where the power of the High Court under Section 482 of the Code to quash the proceedings in those offences which are uncompoundable has been recognized. The only difference is that under Section 320(1) of the Code, no permission is required from the Court in those cases which are compoundable though the Court has discretionary power to refuse to compound the offence.
However, compounding under Section 320(1) of the Code is permissible only in minor offences or in non-serious offences. Likewise, when the parties reach settlement in respect of offences enumerated in Section 320(2) of the Code, compounding is permissible but it requires the approval of the Court. In so far as serious offences are concerned, quashing of criminal proceedings upon compromise is within the discretionary powers of the High Court. In such cases, the power is exercised under Section 482 of the Code and proceedings are quashed.
Contours of these powers were described by this Court in B.S.Joshi vs.
State of Haryana (2003) 4 SCC 675 which has been followed and further explained/elaborated in so many cases thereafter, which are taken note of in the discussion that follows hereinafter.
12. At the same time, one has to keep in mind the subtle distinction between the power of compounding of offences given to Court under Section 320 of the Code and quashing of criminal proceedings by the High Court in exercise of its inherent jurisdiction conferred upon it under Section 482 of the Code. Once, it is found that compounding is permissible only if a particular offence is covered by the provisions of Section 320 of the Code and the Court in such cases is guided solitary and squarely by the compromise between the parties, in so far as power of quashing under Section 482 of the Code is concerned, it 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. Such a distinction is lucidly explained by a three-Judge Bench of this Court in Gian Singh vs. State of Punjab & Anr. (2012) 10 SCC 303. Justice Lodha, speaking for the Court, explained the difference between the two provisions in the following manner:
“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.
B.S.Joshi, Nikhil Merchant, Manoj Sharma and Shiji do illustrate the principle that the High Court may quash criminal proceedings or FIR or complaint in exercise of its inherent power under Section 482 of the Code and Section 320 does not limit or affect the powers of the High Court under Section 482.
Can it be said that by quashing criminal proceedings in B.S.Joshi, Nikhil Merchant, Manoj Sharma and Shiji this Court has compounded the non-compoundable offences indirectly? We do not think so. There does exist the distinction between compounding of an offence under Section 320 and quashing of a criminal case by the High Court in exercise of inherent power under Section 482. The two powers are distinct and different although the ultimate consequence may be the same viz. acquittal of the accused or dismissal of indictment.”
13. Apart from narrating the interplay of Section 320 and Section 482 of the Code in the manner aforesaid, the Court also described the extent of power under Section 482 of the Code in quashing the criminal proceedings in those cases where the parties had settled the matter although the offences are not compoundable. In the first instance it was emphasized that the power under Sec. 482 of the Code is not to be resorted to, if there is specific provision in the Code for redressal of the grievance of an aggrieved party. It should be exercised very sparingly and should not be exercised as against the express bar of law engrafted in any other provision of the Code. The Court also highlighted that in different situations, the inherent power may be exercised in different ways to achieve its ultimate objective.
Formation of opinion by the High Court before it exercises inherent power under Section 482 on either of the twin objectives, (i) to prevent abuse of the process of any court, or (ii) to secure the ends of justice, is a sine qua non.
14. As to under what circumstances the criminal proceedings in a non- compoundable case be quashed when there is a settlement between the parties, the Court provided the following guidelines:
“Where the High Court quashes a criminal proceeding having regard to the facts that the dispute between the offender and the victim has been settled although the 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 wrongdoing that seriously endangers and threatens the well-being of the 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 the 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 the Prevention of Corruption Act or the offences committed by public servants while working in that capacity, the settlement between the offender and the victim can have no legal sanction at all.
However, certain offences which overwhelmingly and predominantly bear civil flavor 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 the victim and the offender and the 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 FIR if it is satisfied that on the face of such settlement, there is hardly any likelihood of the 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.” Thereafter, the Court summed up the legal position in the following words:
“The position that emerges from the above discussion can be summarized thus: the power of the High Court in quashing a criminal proceeding or FIR or complaint in exercise of its inherent jurisdiction is distinct and different from the power given to a criminal court for compounding the offences under Section 320 of the Code. Inherent power is of wide plentitude with no statutory limitation but it has to be exercised in accord with the guidelines engrafted in such power viz.: (i) to secure the ends of justice, or (ii) to prevent abuse f the process of any court. In what cases power to quash the criminal proceeding or complaint or FIR may be exercised where the offender and the 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 a serious impact on society. Similarly, any compromise between the victim and the offender in relation to the offences under special statutes like the 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 predominatingly civil flavor stand on a 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, the High Court may quash the criminal proceedings if in its view, because of the compromise between the offender and the victim, the possibility of conviction is remote and bleak and continuation of the criminal case would put the 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 or continuation of the criminal proceeding would tantamount to abuse of process of law despite settlement and compromise between the victim and the wrongdoer and whether to secure the ends of justice, it is appropriate that the criminal case is put to an end and if the answer to the above question(s) is in the affirmative, the High Court shall be well within its jurisdiction to quash the criminal proceeding.”
15. The Court was categorical that in respect of serious offences or other offences of mental depravity or offence of merely dacoity under special statute, like the Prevention of Corruption Act or the offences committed by Public Servant while working in that capacity. The mere settlement between the parties would not be a ground to quash the proceedings by the High Court and inasmuch as settlement of such heinous crime cannot have imprimatur of the Court.
16. The question is as to whether offence under Section 307 IPC falls within the aforesaid parameters. First limb of this question is to reflect on the nature of the offence. The charge against the accused in such cases is that he had attempted to take the life of another person (victim). On this touchstone, should we treat it a crime of serious nature so as to fall in the category of heinous crime, is the poser.
17. Finding an answer to this question becomes imperative as the philosophy and jurisprudence of sentencing is based thereupon. If it is heinous crime of serious nature then it has to be treated as a crime against the society and not against the individual alone. Then it becomes the solemn duty of the State to punish the crime doer. Even if there is a settlement/compromise between the perpetrator of crime and the victim, that is of no consequence. Law prohibits certain acts and/or conduct and treats them as offences. Any person committing those acts is subject to penal consequences which may be of various kind. Mostly, punishment provided for committing offences is either imprisonment or monetary fine or both. Imprisonment can be rigorous or simple in nature. Why those persons who commit offences are subjected to such penal consequences? There are many philosophies behind such sentencing justifying these penal consequences. The philosophical/jurisprudential justification can be retribution, incapacitation, specific deterrence, general deterrence, rehabilitation, or restoration. Any of the above or a combination thereof can be the goal of sentencing. Whereas in various countries, sentencing guidelines are provided, statutorily or otherwise, which may guide Judges for awarding specific sentence, in India we do not have any such sentencing policy till date. The prevalence of such guidelines may not only aim at achieving consistencies in awarding sentences in different cases, such guidelines normally prescribe the sentencing policy as well namely whether the purpose of awarding punishment in a particular case is more of a deterrence or retribution or rehabilitation etc.
18. In the absence of such guidelines in India, Courts go by their own perception about the philosophy behind the prescription of certain specified penal consequences for particular nature of crime. For some deterrence and/or vengeance becomes more important whereas another Judge may be more influenced by rehabilitation or restoration as the goal of sentencing. Sometimes, it would be a combination of both which would weigh in the mind of the Court in awarding a particular sentence. However, that may be question of quantum.
What follows from the discussion behind the purpose of sentencing is that if a particular crime is to be treated as crime against the society and/or heinous crime, then the deterrence theory as a rationale for punishing the offender becomes more relevant, to be applied in such cases. Therefore, in respect of such offences which are treated against the society, it becomes the duty of the State to punish the offender. Thus, even when there is a settlement between the offender and the victim, their will would not prevail as in such cases the matter is in public domain. Society demands that the individual offender should be punished in order to deter other effectively as it amounts to greatest good of the greatest number of persons in a society. It is in this context that we have to understand the scheme/philosophy behind Section 307 of the Code.
19. We would like to expand this principle in some more detail. We find, in practice and in reality, after recording the conviction and while awarding the sentence/punishment the Court is generally governed by any or all or combination of the aforesaid factors. Sometimes, it is the deterrence theory which prevails in the minds of the Court, particularly in those cases where the crimes committed are heinous in nature or depicts depravity, or lack morality. At times it is to satisfy the element of “emotion” in law and retribution/vengeance becomes the guiding factor. In any case, it cannot be denied that the purpose of punishment by law is deterrence, constrained by considerations of justice. What, then, is the role of mercy, forgiveness and compassion in law? These are by no means comfortable questions and even the answers may not be comforting. There may be certain cases which are too obvious namely cases involving heinous crime with element of criminality against the society and not parties inter-se. In such cases, the deterrence as purpose of punishment becomes paramount and even if the victim or his relatives have shown the virtue and gentility, agreeing to forgive the culprit, compassion of that private party would not move the court in accepting the same as larger and more important public policy of showing the iron hand of law to the wrongdoers, to reduce the commission of such offences, is more important. Cases of murder, rape, or other sexual offences etc.
would clearly fall in this category. After all, justice requires long term vision. On the other hand, there may be, offences falling in the category where “correctional” objective of criminal law would have to be given more weightage in contrast with “deterrence” philosophy.
Punishment, whatever else may be, must be fair and conducive to good rather than further evil. If in a particular case the Court is of the opinion that the settlement between the parties would lead to more good; better relations between them; would prevent further occurrence of such encounters between the parties, it may hold settlement to be on a better pedestal. It is a delicate balance between the two inflicting interests which is to be achieved by the Court after examining all these parameters and then deciding as to which course of action it should take in a particular case.
20. We may comment, at this stage, that in so far as the judgment in the case of Bhandari (supra) is concerned, undoubtedly this Court observed that since offence under Section 307 is not compoundable in terms of Section 320(9) of the Cr.P.C., compounding of the offence was out of question. However, apart from this observation, this aspect is not discussed in detail. Moreover, on reading para 12 of the said judgment, it is clear that one finds that counsel for the appellant in that case had not contested the conviction of the appellant for the offence under Section 307 IPC, but had mainly pleaded for reduction of sentence by projecting mitigating circumstances.
21. However, we have some other cases decided by this Court commenting upon the nature of offence under Section 307 of IPC. In Dimpey Gujral case (supra), FIR was lodged under sections 147,148,149,323,307,552 and 506 of the IPC. The matter was investigated and final report was presented to the Court under Section 173 of the Cr.P.C. The trial court had even framed the charges. At that stage, settlement was arrived at between parties. The court accepted the settlement and quashed the proceedings, relying upon the earlier judgment of this Court in Gian Singh vs. State of Punjab &
Anr. 2012 AIR SCW 5333 wherein the court had observed that inherent powers under section 482 of the Code are of wide plentitude with no statutory limitation and the guiding factors are: (1) to secure the needs of justice, or (2) to prevent abuse of process of the court.
While doing so, commenting upon the offences stated in the FIR, the court observed:
“Since the offences involved in this case are of a personal nature and are not offences against the society, we had enquired with learned counsel appearing for the parties whether there is any possibility of a settlement. We are happy to note that due to efforts made by learned counsel, parties have seen reason and have entered into a compromise.” This Court, thus, treated such offences including one under section 307, IPC were of a personal nature and not offences against the society.
22. On the other hand, we have few judgments wherein this Court refused to quash the proceedings in FIR registered under section 307 IPC etc. on the ground that offence under section 307 was of serious nature and would fall in the category of heinous crime. In the case of Shiji vs. Radhika & Anr. (2011) 10 SCC 705 the Court quashed the proceedings relating to an offence under section 354 IPC with the following observations:
“We have heard learned counsel for the parties and perused the impugned order. Section 320 of the Cr.P.C. enlists offences that are compoundable with the permission of the Court before whom the prosecution is pending and those that can be compounded even without such permission. An offence punishable under Section 354 of the IPC is in terms of Section 320(2) of the Code compoundable at the instance of the woman against whom the offence is committed. To that extent, therefore, there is no difficulty in either quashing the proceedings or compounding the offence under Section 354, of which the appellants are accused, having regard to the fact that the alleged victim of the offence has settled the matter with the alleged assailants. An offence punishable under Section 394 IPC is not, however, compoundable with or without the permission of the Court concerned. The question is whether the High Court could and ought to have exercised its power under section 482 the said provision in the light of the compromise that the parties have arrived at.” 23. In a recent judgment in the case of State of Rajasthan vs.
Shambhu Kewat & Ors. 2013 (14) SCALE 235, this very Bench of the Court was faced with the situation where the High Court had accepted the settlement between the parties in an offence under Section 307 read with Section 34 IPC and set the accused at large by acquitting them. The settlement was arrived at during the pendency of appeal before the High Court against the order of conviction and sentence of the Sessions Judge holding the accused persons guilty of the offence under Section307/34 IPC. Some earlier cases of compounding of offence under Section 307 IPC were taken note of, noticing under certain circumstances, the Court had approved the compounding whereas in certain other cases such a course of action was not accepted. In that case, this Court took the view that High Court was not justified in accepting the compromise and setting aside the conviction. While doing so, following discussion ensued:
“We find, in this case, such a situation does not arise.
In the instant case, the incident had occurred on 30.10.2008.
The trial court held that the accused persons, with common intention, went to the shop of the injured Abdul Rashid on that day armed with iron rod and a strip of iron and, in furtherance of their common intention, had caused serious injuries on the body of Abdul Rashid, of which injury number 4 was on his head, which was of a serious nature.
Dr.Rakesh Sharma, PW5, had stated that out of the injuries caused to Abdul Rashid, injury No.4 was an injury on the head and that injury was “grievous and fatal for life”. PW8, Dr. Uday Bhomik, also opined that a grievous injury was caused on the head of Abdul Rashid. DR. Uday conducted the operation on injuries of Abdul Rashid as a Neuro Surgeon and fully supported the opinion expressed by PW5 Dr. Rakesh Sharma that injury No.4 was “grievous and fatal for life”.
We notice that the gravity of the injuries was taken note of by the Sessions Court and it had awarded the sentence of 10 years rigorous imprisonment for the offence punishable under Section 307 IPC, but not by the High Court. The High Court has completely overlooked the various principles laid down by this Court in Gian Singh (Supra), and has committed a mistake in taking the view that, the injuries were caused on the body of Abdul Rashid in a fight occurred at the spur and the heat of the moment. It has been categorically held by this Court in Gian Singh (supra) that the Court, while exercising the power under Section 482, must have “due regard to the nature and gravity of the crime” and “the social impact”. Both these aspects were completely overlooked by the High Court. The High Court in a cursory manner, without application of mind, blindly accepted the statement of the parties that they had settled their disputes and differences and took the view that it was a crime against “an individual”, rather than against “the society at large”.
We are not prepared to say that the crime alleged to have been committed by the accused persons was a crime against an individual, on the other hand it was a crime against the society at large. Criminal law is designed as a mechanism for achieving social control and its purpose is the regulation of conduct and activities within the society. Why Section 307 IPC is held to be non-compoundable, because the Code has identified which conduct should be brought within the ambit of non-compoundable offences.
Such provisions are not meant, just to protect the individual, but the society as a whole. High Court was not right in thinking that it was only an injury to the person and since the accused persons had received the monetary compensation and settled the matter, the crime as against them was wiped off. Criminal justice system has a larger objective to achieve, that is safety and protection of the people at large and it would be a lesson not only to the offender, but to the individuals at large so that such crimes would not be committed by any one and money would not be a substitute for the crime committed against the society. Taking a lenient view on a serious offence like the present, will leave a wrong impression about the criminal justice system and will encourage further criminal acts, which will endanger the peaceful co-existence and welfare of the society at large.”
24. Thus, we find that in certain circumstances, this Court has approved the quashing of proceedings under section 307,IPC whereas in some other cases, it is held that as the offence is of serious nature such proceedings cannot be quashed. Though in each of the aforesaid cases the view taken by this Court may be justified on its own facts, at the same time this Court owes an explanation as to why two different approaches are adopted in various cases. The law declared by this Court in the form of judgments becomes binding precedent for the High Courts and the subordinate courts, to follow under Article 141 of the Constitution of India. Stare Decisis is the fundamental principle of judicial decision making which requires ‘certainty’ too in law so that in a given set of facts the course of action which law shall take is discernable and predictable. Unless that is achieved, the very doctrine of stare decisis will lose its significance. The related objective of the doctrine of stare decisis is to put a curb on the personal preferences and priors of individual Judges. In a way, it achieves equality of treatment as well, inasmuch as two different persons faced with similar circumstances would be given identical treatment at the hands of law. It has, therefore, support from the human sense of justice as well. The force of precedent in the law is heightened, in the words of Karl Llewellyn, by “that curious, almost universal sense of justice which urges that all men are to be treated alike in like circumstances”.
25. As there is a close relation between the equality and justice, it should be clearly discernible as to how the two prosecutions under Section 307 IPC are different in nature and therefore are given different treatment. With this ideal objective in mind, we are proceeding to discuss the subject at length. It is for this reason we deem it appropriate to lay down some distinct, definite and clear guidelines which can be kept in mind by the High Courts to take a view as to under what circumstances it should accept the settlement between the parties and quash the proceedings and under what circumstances it should refrain from doing so. We make it clear that though there would be a general discussion in this behalf as well, the matter is examined in the context of offences under Section 307 IPC.
26. The two rival parties have amicably settled the disputes between themselves and buried the hatchet. Not only this, they say that since they are neighbours, they want to live like good neighbours and that was the reason for restoring friendly ties. In such a scenario, should the court give its imprimatur to such a settlement.
The answer depends on various incidental aspects which need serious discourse.
The Legislators has categorically recognized that those offences which are covered by the provisions of section 320 of the Code are concededly those not only do not fall within the category of heinous crime but also which are personal between the parties. Therefore, this provision recognizes whereas there is a compromise between the parties the Court is to act at the said compromise and quash the proceedings.
However, even in respect of such offences not covered within the four corners of Section 320 of the Code, High Court is given power under Section 482 of the Code to accept the compromise between the parties and quash the proceedings. The guiding factor is as to whether the ends of justice would justify such exercise of power, both the ultimate consequences may be acquittal or dismissal of indictment.
This is so recognized in various judgments taken note of above.
27. In the case of Dimpey Gujral (supra), observations of this Court to the effect that offences involved in that case were not offences against the society. It included charge under Section 307 IPC as well. However, apart from stating so, there is no detained discussion on this aspect. Moreover, it is the other factors which prevailed with the Court to accept the settlement and compound he offence, as noted above while discussing this case. On the other hand, in Shambhu Kewat (supra), after referring to some other earlier judgments, this Court opined that commission of offence under Section 307 IPC would be crime against the society at large, and not a crime against an individual only. We find that in most of the cases, this view is taken. Even on first principle, we find that an attempt to take the life of another person has to be treated as a heinous crime and against the society.
28. Having said so, we would hasten to add that though it is a serious offence as the accused person(s) attempted to take the life of another person/victim, at the same time the court cannot be oblivious to hard realities that many times whenever there is a quarrel between the parties leading to physical commotion and sustaining of injury by either or both the parties, there is a tendency to give it a slant of an offence under Section 307 IPC as well. Therefore, only because FIR/Charge-sheet incorporates the provision of Section 307 IPC would not, by itself, be a ground to reject the petition under section 482 of the Code and refuse to accept the settlement between the parties.
We are, therefore, of the opinion that while taking a call as to whether compromise in such cases should be effected or not, the High Court should go by the nature of injury sustained, the portion of the bodies where the injuries were inflicted (namely whether injuries are caused at the vital/delicate parts of the body) and the nature of weapons used etc. On that basis, if it is found that there is a strong possibility of proving the charge under Section 307 IPC, once the evidence to that effect is led and injuries proved, the Court should not accept settlement between the parties. On the other hand, on the basis of prima facie assessment of the aforesaid circumstances, if the High Court forms an opinion that provisions of Section 307 IPC were unnecessary included in the charge sheet, the Court can accept the plea of compounding of the offence based on settlement between the parties.
29. At this juncture, we would like also to add that the timing of settlement would also play a crucial role. If the settlement is arrived at immediately after the alleged commission of offence when the matter is still under investigation, the High Court may be somewhat liberal in accepting the settlement and quashing the proceedings/investigation. Of course, it would be after looking into the attendant circumstances as narrated in the previous para.
Likewise, when challan is submitted but the charge has not been framed, the High Court may exercise its discretionary jurisdiction.
However, at this stage, as mentioned above, since the report of the I.O. under Section 173,Cr.P.C. is also placed before the Court it would become the bounding duty of the Court to go into the said report and the evidence collected, particularly the medical evidence relating to injury etc. sustained by the victim. This aspect, however, would be examined along with another important consideration, namely, in view of settlement between the parties, whether it would be unfair or contrary to interest of justice to continue with the criminal proceedings and whether possibility of conviction is remote and bleak.
If the Court finds the answer to this question in affirmative, then also such a case would be a fit case for the High Court to give its stamp of approval to the compromise arrived at between the parties, inasmuch as in such cases no useful purpose would be served in carrying out the criminal proceedings which in all likelihood would end in acquittal, in any case.
30. We have found that in certain cases, the High Courts have accepted the compromise between the parties when the matter in appeal was pending before the High Court against the conviction recorded by the trial court. Obviously, such cases are those where the accused persons have been found guilty by the trial court, which means the serious charge of Section 307 IPC has been proved beyond reasonable doubt at the level of the trial court. There would not be any question of accepting compromise and acquitting the accused persons simply because the private parties have buried the hatchet.
31. In view of the aforesaid discussion, we sum up and lay down the following principles by which the High Court would be guided in giving adequate treatment to the settlement between the parties and exercising its power under Section 482 of the Code while accepting the settlement and quashing the proceedings or refusing to accept the settlement with direction to continue with the criminal proceedings:
(I) Power conferred under Section 482 of the Code is to be distinguished from the power which lies in the Court to compound the offences under Section 320 of the Code. No doubt, under Section 482 of the Code, the High Court has inherent power to quash the criminal proceedings even in those cases which are not compoundable, where the parties have settled the matter between themselves. However, this power is to be exercised sparingly and with caution.
(II)When the parties have reached the settlement and on that basis petition for quashing the criminal proceedings is filed, the guiding factor in such cases would be to secure:
(i) ends of justice, or (ii) to prevent abuse of the process of any Court.
While exercising the power the High Court is to form an opinion on either of the aforesaid two objectives.
(III) Such a power is not be exercised in those prosecutions which involve heinous and serious offences of mental depravity or offences like murder, rape, dacoity, etc. Such offences are not private in nature and have a serious impact on society. Similarly, for offences alleged to have been committed under special statute like the Prevention of Corruption Act or the offences committed by Public Servants while working in that capacity are not to be quashed merely on the basis of compromise between the victim and the offender.
(IV) On the other, those criminal cases having overwhelmingly and pre-dominantly civil character, particularly those arising out of commercial transactions or arising out of matrimonial relationship or family disputes should be quashed when the parties have resolved their entire disputes among themselves.
(V) While exercising its powers, the High Court is to examine as to whether the possibility of conviction is remote and bleak and continuation of criminal cases would put the accused to great oppression and prejudice and extreme injustice would be caused to him by not quashing the criminal cases.
(VI) Offences under Section 307 IPC would fall in the category of heinous and serious offences and therefore is to be generally treated as crime against the society and not against the individual alone. However, the High Court would not rest its decision merely because there is a mention of Section 307 IPC in the FIR or the charge is framed under this provision. It would be open to the High Court to examine as to whether incorporation of Section 307 IPC is there for the sake of it or the prosecution has collected sufficient evidence, which if proved, would lead to proving the charge under Section 307 IPC. For this purpose, it would be open to the High Court to go by the nature of injury sustained, whether such injury is inflicted on the vital/delegate parts of the body, nature of weapons used etc. Medical report in respect of injuries suffered by the victim can generally be the guiding factor. On the basis of this prima facie analysis, the High Court can examine as to whether there is a strong possibility of conviction or the chances of conviction are remote and bleak. In the former case it can refuse to accept the settlement and quash the criminal proceedings whereas in the later case it would be permissible for the High Court to accept the plea compounding the offence based on complete settlement between the parties. At this stage, the Court can also be swayed by the fact that the settlement between the parties is going to result in harmony between them which may improve their future relationship.
(VII) While deciding whether to exercise its power under Section 482 of the Code or not, timings of settlement play a crucial role.
Those cases where the settlement is arrived at immediately after the alleged commission of offence and the matter is still under investigation, the High Court may be liberal in accepting the settlement to quash the criminal proceedings/investigation. It is because of the reason that at this stage the investigation is still on and even the charge sheet has not been filed. Likewise, those cases where the charge is framed but the evidence is yet to start or the evidence is still at infancy stage, the High Court can show benevolence in exercising its powers favourably, but after prima facie assessment of the circumstances/material mentioned above. On the other hand, where the prosecution evidence is almost complete or after the conclusion of the evidence the matter is at the stage of argument, normally the High Court should refrain from exercising its power under Section 482 of the Code, as in such cases the trial court would be in a position to decide the case finally on merits and to come a conclusion as to whether the offence under Section 307 IPC is committed or not. Similarly, in those cases where the conviction is already recorded by the trial court and the matter is at the appellate stage before the High Court, mere compromise between the parties would not be a ground to accept the same resulting in acquittal of the offender who has already been convicted by the trial court. Here charge is proved under Section 307 IPC and conviction is already recorded of a heinous crime and, therefore, there is no question of sparing a convict found guilty of such a crime.
32. After having clarified the legal position in the manner aforesaid, we proceed to discuss the case at hand.
33. In the present case, FIR No.121 dated 14.7.2010 was registered under Section 307/324/323/34 IPC. Investigation was completed, whereafter challan was presented in the court against the petitioner herein. Charges have also been framed; the case is at the stage of recording of evidence. At this juncture, parties entered into compromise on the basis of which petition under Section 482 of the Code was filed by the petitioners namely the accused persons for quashing of the criminal proceedings under the said FIR. As per the copy of the settlement which was annexed along with the petition, the compromise took place between the parties on 12.7.2013 when respectable members of the Gram Panchayat held a meeting under the Chairmanship of Sarpanch. It is stated that on the intervention of the said persons/Panchayat, both the parties were agreed for compromise and have also decided to live with peace in future with each other. It was argued that since the parties have decided to keep harmony between the parties so that in future they are able to live with peace and love and they are the residents of the same village, the High Court should have accepted the said compromise and quash the proceedings.
34. We find from the impugned order that the sole reason which weighed with the High Court in refusing to accept the settlement between the parties was the nature of injuries. If we go by that factor alone, normally we would tend to agree with the High Court’s approach. However, as pointed out hereinafter, some other attendant and inseparable circumstances also need to be kept in mind which compel us to take a different view.
35. We have gone through the FIR as well which was recorded on the basis of statement of the complainant/victim. It gives an indication that the complainant was attacked allegedly by the accused persons because of some previous dispute between the parties, though nature of dispute etc. is not stated in detail. However, a very pertinent statement appears on record viz., “respectable persons have been trying for a compromise up till now, which could not be finalized”.
This becomes an important aspect. It appears that there have been some disputes which led to the aforesaid purported attack by the accused on the complainant. In this context when we find that the elders of the village, including Sarpanch, intervened in the matter and the parties have not only buried their hatchet but have decided to live peacefully in future, this becomes an important consideration.
The evidence is yet to be led in the Court. It has not even started.
In view of compromise between parties, there is a minimal chance of the witnesses coming forward in support of the prosecution case. Even though nature of injuries can still be established by producing the doctor as witness who conducted medical examination, it may become difficult to prove as to who caused these injuries. The chances of conviction, therefore, appear to be remote. It would, therefore, be unnecessary to drag these proceedings. We, taking all these factors into consideration cumulatively, are of the opinion that the compromise between the parties be accepted and the criminal proceedings arising out of FIR No.121 dated 14.7.2010 registered with Police Station LOPOKE, District Amritsar Rural be quashed. We order accordingly.
36. Appeal is allowed. No costs.
March 27, 2014