What is meant by disposal of property under criminal law?

What is meant by disposal of property under criminal law?

Criminal Law provides us with a wide ambit to ponder over issues that affects us. The Code of Criminal Procedure[i] dedicates an entire chapter on the Disposal of Property under the codified law. Disposal of property is a matter of unfettered discretion for the Court. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, in Sunderbhai Ambalal Desai v. State of Gujarat[ii], succinctly opined on the scheme of the articulated provisions as to the disposal of case property, said that “The object and scheme of the various provisions of the Code appear to be that where the property which has been the subject-matter of an offence is seized by the police, it ought not to be retained in the custody of the Court or of the police for any time longer than what is absolutely necessary.”

Distinction of ‘disposal of property’ under Civil and Criminal Law

Under Civil Law, disposal means transfer. Section 5 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882 defines the act by which a living person conveys property, in present or in future, to one or more other living persons, or to himself and one or more other living persons; and “to transfer property” is to perform such act. Section 6 further permits the property of any kind to be transferred. The person insisting non-transferability must prove the existence of some law or custom which restricts the right of transfer. Unless there is some legal restriction preventing the transfer, the owner of the property may transfer it. Under Criminal Law, we have proper codifications of Section 452-459 allotted to disposal of properties. The Code of Criminal Procedure deals extensively with the powers of the courts in such matters. What order should be passed by a court depends upon the section under which it passed the order. Further, the section affects/ depends upon the situation in which the property was seized or produced before it.

Scrutinizing property disposal under the Criminal Law

Ordinarily, property can be disposed via sale, transfer or relinquishment. But criminal law brings in a twist where the property in question is not an ordinary property. Rather, it stands as a property against an offense committed or which, by any chance, was used for the commission of a crime. Section 452 to Section 459 provides an elaborate procedure, inclusive of remedies, at the conclusion of trial under the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The Chapter details out four categories of property:

Where an offence has been committed
Where the property has been used to commit an offence
Where the property has been produced before the Court
Where the property is in the custody of the Court

Section 451: Order for custody of the disposed property in pending trials

Whenever there lies any property in dispute before the court of law, the court may order for the proper custody of the same to a specific person or wherever it deems fit until the trial is completed. In the case of Abdul Jabar[iii], the registered owner of a vehicle, who claimed to be the ‘true owner’ of the purchase, was ordered for the custody of the entrustment.

Section 452: Order for disposal of property at the conclusion of trial

The said order can be made for the disposition of property by destruction, confiscation or delivery to the person claiming to be entitled.[iv] In case where the property in question is set aside, the possessor needs to return the property in due time.[v] To further be elaborative on the legal touch, the property can directly be delivered to the Chief Judicial Magistrate, who shall deal with it as prescribed under Section 457, 458 and 459. When conflicting claims are made with benefit of doubts, the Session judge can direct for a delivery of the property to the Magistrate under Section 452(3) of the Code for disposal.[vi] If the property in dispute is that of livestock, the entire procedure must be completed within 2 months.[vii]

Section 453: Payment to innocent purchaser of money found on accused

There might arise a situation when a person purchases a property, bonafide, without knowing that the aid property is stolen. When the police confiscate the property upon the discovery of the truth, what remedy lies with the purchaser? Here, Section 453 comes handy and provides for a delivery of a certain amount (not exceeding the price paid for the property) which is recovered from the convicted person accused of theft who had stolen it.

Section 454: Appeal against the order under Section 452 and 453

There is always a provision of appeal available against the applicable sections. Any person aggrieved by the order made under Section 452 and 453 can file for an appeal in the Court of Law. The Appellate Court can either stay/annul the order or modify further to be just.[viii]

Section 455: Destruction of Libelous and other matters

The Court may order, if necessitates, for the destruction of the matters related to the conviction which are in the custody of the court or in possession of the person convicted.

Section 456: Power to restore the possession of immovable property

If the Court finds it fit that the property of the convicted person was confiscated by force or intimidation, the Court shall order for the restoration of the property.[ix] The catch here is that the order must be made within a period of one month from the date of conviction.

Section 457: Procedure by Police upon seizure of property

Where the police seize the property but the property isn’t produced before the Court during the trial, the Magistrate can make a call for the disposal of the property or delivery to the person entitled for the same. If the person is not ascertained, the property shall remain in custody.

If the entitled person is not known to the Court, a proclamation will be issued specifying the details and the property must be claimed within 6 months from the date of proclamation.[x]

Section 458: Procedure when no claimant appears within 6 months

If no claimant appears within a period of six months and even if he appears and is unable to prove his entitlement over the property, the Court shall order for the disposal of the same to the State Government.

Section 459: Power to sell perishable property

If the nature of the property is perishable in nature and must be transacted due to its natural or speedy decaying trait, the Magistrate may sell it if the owner remains untraceable.

Secondly, if the Magistrate finds it to be beneficial for the owner where the value of the property is less than five hundred rupees, the Magistrate can order it to be sold anytime.

Conclusively, the entire Chapter of the Code notches how important the procedural and punishment for disposal of property holds in the judicature. It is prudent to remember that it is not only for the movable goods but also for the immovable goods coming under the ambit. Thus, disposal of property helps in either freezing or seizing properties that become the proceeds or instrumentalities of crime.

“The views of the authors are personal


[i] Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Chapter 34, No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1973 (India).

[ii] Sunderbhai Ambalal Desai v. State of Gujarat, 2002 10 SCC 283 (India)

[iii] Abdul Jabar v. Khaleed Ahmad, 1988 CrLJ 810 (India).

[iv] Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, § 452(1), No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1973 (India).

[v] Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, § 452(2), No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1973 (India).

[vi] Andhuri Podhan v. State of Odisha, 1987 CrLJ 1478 (India).

[vii] Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, § 452(4), No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1973 (India).

[viii] Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, § 454(2), No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1973 (India).

[ix] Ganda v. State of Rajasthan, 1993 CrLJ 216 (India).

[x] Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, § 457(2), No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1973 (India).

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