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Filing Criminal Complaint for settling Civil Dispute is abuse of process of law, Supreme Court

Shruti Mahajan

Initiating criminal proceedings and filing a criminal complaint for settling a civil dispute is nothing but an abuse of the process of law, the Supreme Court held today.

The judgment was passed by a Bench of Justices Arun MishraS Abdul Nazeer and MR Shah in an appeal against a verdict of the Delhi High Court.

The Supreme Court set aside the High Court judgment which had passed certain directions relating to registration of a First Information Report in a case of cheating.

The matter was one of a civil dispute between a buyer and sellers of a property and the same did not warrant initiation of criminal proceedings, the Court held.

“when it was opined that the dispute between the parties is of a civil nature, the High Court ought not to have issued further directions. The High Court ought to have closed the proceedings. Not only the High Court has issued further directions, but even has imposed costs and an action against the appellants 3 to 5 herein which, in the facts and circumstances of the case, is not sustainable.”

The complainant in the case had entered into an agreement with the sellers of the property. The same was registered and consideration of Rs. 54 lakh was paid. Subsequently, the complainant learnt of a mortgage attached to the property with the Andhra Bank and claimed that he was not informed of the same earlier.

While the complainant redeemed the mortgage, he also filed a criminal complaint against the sellers of the property under Sections 420 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code for the offence of cheating.

The first preliminary inquiry conducted suggested that a prima facie case was made out in the complaint. The concerned Police officers, however, conducted a second preliminary inquiry and this time, arrived at a conclusion that the dispute was civil in nature and did not require registration of FIR.

They opined that the complainant had given his consent for the registration of the sale deed and for the discharge of the mortgage. Even though he claimed that the mortgage was revealed to him later, his consent to the registration of the sale deed meant that no police action was required.

After this, the complainant took the matter to court. The Magistrate rejected the application. Another private complaint was filed by the complainant before the Magistrate which remains pending. Thereafter, a writ petition was filed before the High Court praying for directions to the Commissioner of Police to take action against the concerned Officials for not registering the FIR, and a direction to the officials to register an FIR.

The High Court allowed the petition whereupon the Commissioner of Police and other concerned officials approached the Supreme Court in appeal.

The Supreme Court allowed the appeal holding that there was no occasion which warranted registration of a criminal case.

“we are of the opinion that the criminal proceedings initiated by respondent No. 1 – original complainant is nothing but an abuse of the process of law for settling a civil dispute.

The case involves a civil dispute and for settling a civil dispute, the criminal complaint has been filed, which is nothing but an abuse of the process of law. “

The Court underscored the facts of the case relating to the complainant registering the sale deed in his name as well as paying the mortgage off upon learning of the same. The Criminal proceedings initiated by the complainant was done merely to settle the score, the Court opined.

It held that the view taken by the Police officials that the civil dispute did not require a criminal complaint was justified as was the second preliminary inquiry conducted which yielded this conclusion. In light of the findings of the Police, the High Court ought not to have issued directions prayed for by the Complainant, the Supreme Court said.

Thus, the Court set aside the order of the High Court and quashed the proceedings pending before the Magistrate.

[Read Judgment]