Legal Blog: Power of Courts to Quash Criminal Proceedings : The Law

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Power of Courts to Quash Criminal Proceedings : The Law

Justice Dr. B.S. Chauhan
Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court in a recent decision in State of Maharashtra v. Arun Gulab Gawali, has examined the law on the power of Courts to quash criminal proceedings and has held that such powers should be exercised sparingly and should not circumvent the judicial process. The relevant paras from the judgment are reproduced hereinbelow;

12. The power of quashing criminal proceedings has to be exercised very sparingly and with circumspection and that too in the rarest of rare cases and the Court cannot be justified in embarking upon an enquiry as to the reliability or genuineness or otherwise of allegations made in the F.I.R./Complaint, unless the allegations are so patently absurd and inherently improbable so that no prudent person can ever reach such a conclusion. The extraordinary and inherent powers of the Court do not confer an arbitrary jurisdiction on the Court to act according to its whims or caprice. However, the Court, under its inherent powers, can neither intervene at an uncalled for stage nor it can ‘soft-pedal the course of justice' at a crucial stage of investigation/ proceedings. The provisions of Articles 226, 227 of the Constitution of India and Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereinafter called as ‘Cr.P.C.’) are a device to advance justice and not to frustrate it. The power of judicial review is discretionary, however, it must be exercised to prevent the miscarriage of justice and for correcting some grave errors and to ensure that esteem of administration of justice remains clean and pure. However, there are no limits of power of the Court, but the more the power, the more due care and caution is to be exercised in invoking these powers. (Vide State of West Bengal & Ors. Vs. Swapan Kumar Guha & Ors. AIR 1982 SC 949; M/s. Pepsi Foods Ltd. & Anr. Vs. Special Judicial Magistrate & Ors. AIR 1998 SC 128; G. Sagar Suri & Anr. Vs. State of U.P. & Ors. AIR 2000 SC 754; and Ajay Mitra Vs. State of M.P. & Ors. AIR 2003 SC 1069).

13. In R.P. Kapur Vs. State of Punjab AIR 1960 SC 866, this Court laid down the following principles:- 

(I) Where institution/continuance of criminal proceedings against an accused may amount to the abuse of the process of the court or that the quashing of the impugned proceedings would secure the ends of justice; 

(II) where it manifestly appears that there is a legal bar against the institution or continuance of the said proceeding, e.g. want of sanction;

(III) where the allegations in the First Information Report or the complaint taken at their face value and accepted in their entirety, do not constitute the offence alleged; and

(IV) where the allegations constitute an offence alleged but there is either no legal evidence adduced or evidence adduced clearly or manifestly fails to prove the charge.

14. In State of Haryana & Ors. Vs. Ch. Bhajan Lal & Ors. AIR 1992 SC 604, this Court laid down the similar guidelines for exercising the inherent power, giving types of cases where the Court may exercise its inherent power to quash the criminal proceedings. However, the types of cases mentioned therein do not constitute an exhaustive list, rather the cases are merely illustrative.

15. In State of Karnataka Vs. L.Muniswamy & Ors. AIR 1977 SC 1489, this Court held as under:-

“In the exercise of this wholesome power, the High Court is entitled to quash a proceeding if it comes to the conclusion that allowing the proceeding to continue would be an abuse of the process of the Court or that the ends of justice require that the proceeding ought to be quashed. The saving of the High Court's inherent powers, both in civil and criminal matters is designed to achieve a salutary public purpose which is that a court proceeding ought not to be permitted to degenerate into a weapon of harassment or persecution. In a criminal case, the veiled object behind a lame prosecution, the very nature of the material on which the structure of the prosecution rests and the like would justify the High Court in quashing the proceeding in the interest of justice. The ends of justice are higher than the ends of mere law though justice has got to be administered according to laws made by the legislature. The compelling necessity for making these observations is that without a proper realisation of the object and purpose of the provision which seeks to save the inherent powers of the High Court to do justice between the State and its subjects it would be impossible to appreciate the width and contours of that salient jurisdiction.”

16. The inherent power is to be exercised ex debito justitiae, to do real and substantial justice, for administration of which alone Courts exist. Wherever any attempt is made to abuse that authority so as to produce injustice, the Court has power to prevent the abuse. It is, however, not necessary that at this stage there should be a meticulous analysis of the case before the trial to find out whether the case ends in conviction or acquittal. (Vide Mrs. Dhanalakshmi Vs. R. Prasanna Kumar & Ors. AIR 1990 SC 494; Ganesh Narayan Hegde Vs. S. Bangarappa & Ors. (1995) 4 SCC 41; and M/s Zandu Pharmaceutical Works Ltd. & Ors. Vs. Md. Sharaful Haque & Ors. AIR 2005 SC 9).

17. In State of Orissa & Anr. Vs. Saroj Kumar Sahoo (2005) 13 SCC 540, it has been held that probabilities of the prosecution version can not be analysed at this stage. Likewise the allegations of mala fides of the informant are of secondary importance. The relevant passage reads thus: 

“It would not be proper for the High Court to analyse the case of the complainant in the light of all probabilities in order to determine whether a conviction would be sustainable and on such premises arrive at a conclusion that the proceedings are to be quashed. It would be erroneous to assess the material before it and conclude that the complaint cannot be proceeded with.”

18. In B.S. Joshi & Ors. Vs. State of Haryana & Anr. AIR 2003 SC 1386, this Court held that inherent power must be utilised with the sole purpose of preventing the abuse of the process of the court or to otherwise serve the ends of justice. In exercise of inherent powers, proper scrutiny of facts and circumstances of the case concerned are absolutely imperative. 

19. In Madhavrao Jiwaji Rao Scindia & Anr. Vs. Sambhajirao Chandrojirao Angre & Ors. AIR 1988 SC 709, this court held as under:-

“The legal position is well-settled that when a prosecution at the initial stage is asked to be quashed, the test to be applied by the court is as to whether the uncontroverted allegations as made prima facie establish the offence. It is also for the court to take into consideration any special features which appear in a particular case to consider whether it is expedient and in the interest of justice to permit a prosecution to continue. This is so on the basis that the court cannot be utilised for any oblique purpose and where in the opinion of the court chances of an ultimate conviction is bleak and, therefore, no useful purpose is likely to be served by allowing a criminal prosecution to continue, the court may while taking into consideration the special facts of a case also quash the proceeding even though it may be at a preliminary stage.”

20. This Court, while reconsidering the Judgment in Madhavrao Jiwaji Rao Scindia (supra), consistently observed that where matters are also of civil nature i.e. matrimonial, family disputes, etc., the Court may consider “special facts”, “special features” and quash the criminal proceedings to encourage genuine settlement of disputes between the parties. 

21. The said Judgment was reconsidered and explained by this Court in State of Bihar & Anr. Vs. Shri P.P. Sharma & Anr. AIR 1991 SC 1260, as under:

“Madhaorao J. Scindhia v. Sambhaji Rao AIR 1988 SC 709, also does not help the respondents. In that case the allegations constituted civil wrong as the trustees created tenancy of Trust property to favour the third party. A private complaint was laid for the offence under Section 467 read with Section 34 and Section 120B I.P.C. which the High Court refused to quash under Section 482. This Court allowed the appeal and quashed the proceedings on the ground that even on its own contentions in the complaint, it would be a case of breach of trust or a civil wrong but no ingredients of criminal offences were made out. On those facts and also due to the relation of the settler, the mother, the appellant and his wife, as the son and daughter-in-law, this Court interfered and allowed the appeal………Therefore, the ratio therein is of no assistance to the facts in this case. It cannot be considered that this Court laid down as a proposition of law that in every case the court would examine at the preliminary stage whether there would be ultimate chances of conviction on the basis of allegation and exercise of the power under Section 482 or Article 226 to quash the proceedings or the charge-sheet.”

22. In Alpic Finance Ltd. Vs. P. Sadasivan & Anr. AIR 2001 SC 1226, this Court explained the ratio of the Judgment in Madhavrao Jiwaji Rao Scindia (supra), that law laid down therein would only apply where it is a question of a civil wrong, which may or may not amount to a criminal offence. Madhavrao Jiwaji Rao Scindia (supra) was the case involving a trust where proceedings were initiated by some of the trustees against other trustees. This Court, after coming to the conclusion, that the dispute was predominantly civil in nature and that the parties were willing to compromise, quashed the proceedings. 

23. In M.N.Damani Vs. S.K. Sinha & Ors. AIR 2001 SC 2037, this Court again explained the Judgment in Madhavrao Jiwaji Rao Scindia (supra) in a similar manner. 

24. Thus, the judgment in Madhavrao Jiwaji Rao Scindia (supra) does not lay down a law of universal application. Even as per the law laid down therein the court can not examine the facts/evidence etc. in every case to find out as to whether there is sufficient material on the basis of which the case would end in conviction. The ratio of the said Judgment is applicable in limited cases where the Court finds that the dispute involved therein is predominantly civil in nature and that the parties should be given a chance to reach a compromise e.g. matrimonial, property and family disputes etc. etc. The Superior Courts have been given inherent powers to prevent the abuse of the process of Court where the Court finds that the ends of justice may be met by quashing the proceedings, it may quash the proceedings, as the end of achieving justice is higher than the end of merely following the law. It is not necessary for the court to hold a fullfledged inquiry or to appreciate the evidence, collected by the Investigating Agency, if any to find out whether the case would end in conviction or acquittal


  1. I have a query is it must that quashing of such cases can be done only if a Charge Sheet is submitted ?


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