The Supreme Court has held that High Courts can, in exercise of its powers under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, quash criminal proceedings even with respect to non-compoundable offences after taking into account the nature and heinousness of the offence and other factual aspects (Ramgopal vs State of Madhya Pradesh).
The Court said that criminal proceedings involving non-heinous offences or where the offences are predominantly of a private nature, can be annulled irrespective of the fact that trial has already concluded or appeal stands dismissed against conviction.
Handing out punishment is not the sole form of delivering justice, the Bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justice Surya Kant opined.
"The High Court, therefore, having regard to the nature of the offence and the fact that parties have amicably settled their dispute and the victim has willingly consented to the nullification of criminal proceedings, can quash such proceedings in exercise of its inherent powers under Section 482 Cr.P.C., even if the offences are non-compoundable," the Court ruled.
The High Court can evaluate the consequential effects of the offence beyond the body of an individual and thereafter adopt a pragmatic approach, to ensure that the felony, even if it goes unpunished, does not tinker with or paralyze administration of justice, the judgment said.
The Court, however, underscored that such powers of the High Court under Section 482 of CrPC and of Supreme Court under Article 142 of the Constitution ought to be exercised carefully in the context of quashing criminal proceedings, bearing in mind the following:
(i) Nature and effect of the offence on the conscious of the society;
(ii) Seriousness of the injury, if any;
(iii) Voluntary nature of compromise between the accused and the victim; &
(iv) Conduct of the accused persons, prior to and after the occurrence of the purported offence and/or other relevant considerations.
"It goes without saying, that the cases where compromise is struck post conviction, the High Court ought to exercise such discretion with rectitude, keeping in view the circumstances surrounding the incident, the fashion in which the compromise has been arrived at, and with due regard to the nature and seriousness of the offence, besides the conduct of the accused, before and after the incidence," the Court ruled.
The judgment was delivered in two appeals, one from Madhya Pradesh High Court and the other from Karnataka High Court where the non compoundable offences were not compounded after the parties had arrived at settlement.
The question of law considered by the Supreme Court was whether 'noncompoundable' offences can be compounded by a court or in the alternative, whether the High Court can, in exercise of its inherent powers under Section 482 CrPC, quash non-compoundable offences, based on a compromise /settlement arrived at between the accused and the victim or complainant.
The parties here urged the top court to use powers under Article 142 to do complete justice in the case.
The Supreme Court held that the High Court having regard to the nature of the offence and the fact that parties have amicably settled their dispute and the victim has willingly consented to the nullification of criminal proceedings, and same can be done even if the offences are non-compoundable.
However, High Courts should be careful when exercising its powers under Section 482, particularly in cases involving heinous offences, the Court reiterated.
"Grave or serious offences or offences which involve moral turpitude or have a harmful effect on the social and moral fabric of the society or involve matters concerning public policy, cannot be construed betwixt two individuals or groups only, for such offences have the potential to impact the society at large.Effacing abominable offences through quashing process would not only send a wrong signal to the community but may also accord an undue benefit to unscrupulous habitual or professional offenders, who can secure a ‘settlement’ through duress, threats, social boycotts, bribes or other dubious means" the judgment said.
It is well said that “let no guilty man escape, if it can be avoided," it added.
The Court also held that as opposed to Section 320 CrPC where the Court is squarely guided by the compromise between the parties in respect of offences ‘compoundable’ within the statutory framework, the extraordinary power enjoined upon a High Court under Section 482 CrPC or vested in Supreme Court under Article 142 of the Constitution, can be invoked beyond the metes and bounds of Section 320 CrPC.