The bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justice Surya Kant stated that punishing people is not the only way to bring justice.
The Supreme Court has ruled that, in exercising its authority under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, High Courts can cancel criminal proceedings even for non-compoundable offences after considering the nature and heinousness of the crime, as well as other factual factors (Ramgopal vs State of Madhya Pradesh).
The Court stated that criminal proceedings involving non-heinous offences or offences that are primarily of a private nature can be cancelled regardless of whether the trial has been finished or whether an appeal against conviction has been dismissed.
The Bench of Justice Surya Kant and Chief Justice NV Ramana opined that punishing people is not the sole way to bring justice.
” Under Section 482 Cr.P.C the High Court, therefore, can quash such proceedings in exercise of its inherent powers, even if the offences are non-compoundable, 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,” the Court ruled.
According to the ruling, the High Court can assess the offence’s consequences beyond the body of an individual and then take a pragmatic approach to ensure that the felony does not tamper with or paralyse the administration of justice, even if it goes unpunished.
However, the Court emphasised that the High Court’s powers under Section 482 of the CrPC and the Supreme Court’s powers under Article 142 of the Constitution should be applied with caution in the context of quashing criminal proceedings, keeping in mind the following:
(i) Nature and impact of the alleged offence on society’s consciousness
(ii) Seriousness of the injury, if any
(iii) Voluntary nature of the accused and victim’s compromise; and
(iv) Conduct of the accused persons previous to and after the alleged offence and/or other relevant elements.
It goes without saying that in cases where a compromise is reached after a conviction, the High Court should exercise its discretion with caution, taking into account the circumstances surrounding the incident, the manner in which the compromise was reached, and the nature and seriousness of the offence, as well as the accused’s conduct before and after the incident.”
The decision was handed down in two appeals, one from the Madhya Pradesh High Court and the other from the Karnataka High Court, in which the non-compoundable offences were not compounded after the parties reached an agreement.
The Supreme Court considered whether ‘noncompoundable’ offences can be compounded by a court or, alternatively, whether the High Court can quash noncompoundable offences based on a compromise/settlement reached between the accused and the victim or complainant, in the exercise of its inherent powers under Section 482 CrPC.
The parties sought the Supreme Court to use its authority under Article 142 to finish the case’s justice.
“Grave or serious offences, or offences involving moral turpitude or having a negative impact on society’s social and moral fabric, or offences involving public policy, cannot be construed solely between two individuals or groups, because such offences have the potential to affect society as a whole. Quashing heinous crimes would not only send the wrong message to the community, but it might also give an unfair advantage to unscrupulous habitual or professional offenders who can secure a “settlement” through duress, threats, social boycotts, bribes, or other shady methods “According to the ruling.
“Let no guilty man escape if it can be avoided,” the statement continued.
Unlike Section 320 CrPC, the Court also held that where the Court is solely guided by the parties’ agreement in respect of offences that are ‘compoundable’ within the statutory framework, the extraordinary power conferred on a High Court under Section 482 CrPC or vested in the Supreme Court under Article 142 of the Constitution can be exercised beyond the scope of Section 320 CrPC.