[BREAKING] Karnataka High Court stays State government notification to drop 61 criminal Cases against ministers, elected representatives

The High Court order sending strong signals against political interference in prosecution of MLAs/ MPs was passed by a division bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Vishwajith Shetty.
[BREAKING] Karnataka High Court stays State government notification to drop 61 criminal Cases against ministers, elected representatives
Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Vishwajith Shetty

In a significant order, the Karnataka High Court on Monday stayed a State government decision of August 31, by which it had decided to drop criminal prosecution in 61 cases against elected representatives and ministers.

The High Court order sending strong signals against political interference in prosecution of MLAs/ MPs was passed by Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Vishwajith Shetty.

"We direct that no further steps shall be taken on the basis of (government) order dated August 31, 2020," the Court ordered.

The Court also directed the State government to file its statement of objections to the petition by January 22, 2021.

It was hearing a plea by NGO, People Union of Civil Liberties, Karnataka, challenging the August 31 order wherein the Government had granted permission for the withdrawal of prosecution of the 61 cases, under the section 321 of Code of Criminal Procedure.

During the previous hearing, the Court had observed that trial courts are not bound by such decisions by the government and it can apply its own mind and reject prayers for withdrawal of prosecution.

"No court is bound by such a decision taken to withdraw from the prosecution. Even if an application is made under Section 321 of Cr.P.C, the Courts are duty bound to assess whether prima facie case is made out or not and that the Court has power to reject the prayer," the order had said.

Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Vishwajith Shetty
Public Prosecutor cannot act like post box: Karnataka High Court seeks government response in challenge to withdrawal of 61 cases against MLAs

It had also opined during the previous hearing that a Public Prosecutor cannot act like a post box or submit to the diktats of the government when the executive directs withdrawal of criminal cases against legislators.

The prosecutor should act objectively as he/she is an officer of the court, the High Court had added.

Citing the Supreme Court decision in the case of the SK Shukla & Ors vs State Of UP & Ors, the Court said:

"It is held that even if government instructs to the Public Prosecutor to withdraw from the prosecution of a case, the latter after applying his mind to the facts of the case may either agree with the instructions and file a petition before the court stating grounds of withdrawal or disagree therewith having found a good case for prosecution and refuse to file the withdrawal petition.....It is further observed that the Public Prosecutor cannot act like a post box or act on the dictates of the State Government and he has to act objectively as he is also an officer of the court."

The Cabinet decision to withdraw prosecution in 61 cases was taken on August 31, 2020 under Section 321 of Code of Criminal Procedure.

“The Government has granted permission for the withdrawal of prosecution of the 61 cases mentioned in the annexure under the section 321 of CrPC. The Director, Department of Prosecutions and Government Litigation is suggested to take appropriate steps to file necessary applications before the concerned Courts where the 61 cases, mentioned in the Annexure is pending, for their withdrawal,” the government order said.

The petitioner has contended that the decision flew in the face of the Supreme Court order in Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay v. Union of India.

The matter will be next heard on January 29.

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