THE POWER OF THE HIGH COURT TO QUASH FIR’s

In India, it’s a pattern to harass an individual by using legal machinery. There are lots of instances where a forge FIR is registered against an individual with a sole aim to harass him or to put any undue pressure on him. To safeguard the right of the Individuals against whom frivolous FIR is been filed and prevent the abuse of the process of law the Criminal procedure code has provided certain provision under which such FIR’s can be quashed by the court.

What do we mean by An ‘FIR’

The word FIR or “First Information Report” is not defined under Criminal Procedure Code (hereinafter referred as “CrPC”), this word doesn’t find its place in the whole of the Code which came in 1974. However, section 154 of CrPC talks about information in relation to a cognizable offence. This information submitted under section 154 of CrPC is known as FIR in common parlance.

As enshrined in section 154 of CrPC an FIR can be defined as an “information relating to the commission of a "cognizable offence" given orally (in which case it is to be reduced into writing) or in writing to "an officer in charge of a police station" and signed by the informant, entered in a book to be kept by such officer in the form prescribed by the State Government.”[1]


What is quashing of an FIR

Filing of FIR is the most nascent stage of the criminal proceeding. FIR is the first thing from where a criminal action against an individual is started. When the very first thing on which the criminal proceeding is turned into motion gets ‘quashed’ then the whole of the criminal machinery comes to halt in that very case.

As per Supreme Court in Narinder Singh v. the State of Punjab,[2] the FIR is quashed to

  • prevent abuse of the process of the court;

  • and to secure the ends of justice.

These two broad and specific parameters are certainly the most important justification for the provision of quashing the FIR as mentioned in the Criminal Procedure Code.


From where the power of the High Court to quash FIR is derived?

The High Court is provided with the inherent power which can be exercised by it to secure the ends of justice. Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code provided under the 37th Chapter of the CrPC, titled 'Miscellaneous' deals with Inherent powers of the Court. According to section 482 “Saving of inherent powers of High Court Nothing in this Code shall be deemed to limit or affect the inherent powers of the High Court to make such orders as may be necessary to give effect to any order under this Code, or to prevent abuse of the process of any Court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice.” In exercise of this inherent power, the high court can also quash an FIR in order to ‘secure the ends of justice’ as mentioned in the provision providing for the inherent power. Further, section 320 enshrined in chapter 24 of the CrPC also gives the power of quashing the FIR to the court in case an offence is compounded in the manner mentioned in section 320 of the code.

Certainly, there is a grave difference between power exercised by the high court to quash the FIR under section 320 and 482 of CrPC. In the case of section 482, the court can quash the FIR registered in even non-compoundable offence which cannot be done under section 320 of CrPC. Recently the Supreme Court in the case of Sumit Kumar v. The State of H.P.[3] held that the High Court has inherent power under section 482 of CrPC to quash criminal proceedings even in non-compoundable cases where a compromise has arrived between the parties. However, the court held that such power is to be exercised sparingly and with great caution in only non-heinous crimes. Recently Bombay HC denied to quash an FIR in a rape case despite a settlement reached between the victim and accused.[4] The same was denied on the ground that the settlement reached is seemed to be under undue pressure and not by the free will of the victim.

The timing of such compromise reached between the parties is very important to determine whether the inherent power mentioned under section 482 of CrPC can be exercised or not by the court. In the case of Narinder Singh v State of Punjab[5] supreme court clarified this timing and held that “those cases where the settlement is arrived at immediately after the alleged commission of offence and the matter is still under investigation, the High Court may be liberal in accepting the settlement to quash the criminal proceedings/investigation. On the other hand, where the prosecution evidence is almost complete or after the conclusion of the evidence the matter is at the stage of argument, normally the High Court should refrain from exercising its power under Section 482 of the Code, as in such cases the trial court would be in a position to decide the case finally on merit”.


When can A FIR be Quashed By the High Court?

Now, the subsequent question which comes in mind is as to when an FIR can be quashed? This question becomes important to answer because it is important to know that at or till which stage in a criminal proceeding an FIR can be quashed by the High Court exercising its power to quash FIR.

Supreme Court in a judgment delivered in January 2019 in case of Anand Kumar Mohatta and Anr v State (Government of NCT of Delhi)[6] held that the high court can quash the FIR even after a charge sheet has been filed in the case. The court further observed that the power under section 482 is to be exercised to prevent the abuse of process and miscarriage of justice and therefore FIR can be quashed even after a charge sheet is filed in the case. Quashing FIR after the charge sheet is filed is certainly a good decision because insufficiency of evidence is a good ground to quash an FIR.[7]

Supreme Court in significant numbers of cases iterated that the inherent power of the High Court to quash FIR should be used sparingly only in exceptional circumstances. In a recent case of Rakhi Mishra v. State of Bihar,[8] the Supreme Court had reiterated the same legal proposition.

Invoking inherent power provided to the high court at the investigation stage is considered to be premature. It is the investigation which provides the explanation that whether the allegations levelled in FIR are true or not. Invoking inherent jurisdiction at this stage is certainly not right. In Jehan Jehan Singh v. Delhi Administration[9], the Supreme Court held that the High Court cannot adjudicate the reliability of the FIR by entering into an appraisal of evidence and then quashing it. The reason for that is FIR is the very first step in the criminal machinery and until the investigation is not done the case is certainly at a very nascent stage. Therefore, quashing FIR at this stage will foreclose all the doors for prosecution which shouldn’t be done. Further, it is not the forte of the high court which has to look after the evidence in a case. The High Court can’t interfere with them unless was specifically authorized to do so.


What’s the limitation on the power of the high court to quash FIR

The broad a power is, broader is the responsibility which comes with it. The High Court’s power to quash the FIR is certainly a big responsibility and while exercising this power the high court has to act very cautiously.

In the case of section 482, the high court cannot look into the material evidence while quashing the FIR. The high has no jurisdiction to examine the allegation levied while quashing the FIR under section 482.[10]

Further Supreme Court took serious objection of the arbitrary use of the inherent power of the High Courts to quash FIR. In Kurukshetra University and another v. State of Haryana and another,[11] the Supreme Court strongly objected on the manner in which FIR is quashed by the exercising inherent power by High Court. The Supreme Court held that the inherent power provided to High Court u/s 482 should not be exercised arbitrarily. Rather, inherent power should be exercised very sparingly in only exceptional circumstances.


Important points to be taken into account before quashing the FIR

The Honorable Supreme Court in the case of Parbatbhai Aahir & Ors. Vs. State of Gujarat & Anr.[12] after discussing various precedents on the subject in paragraph 15 of the judgement delivered on October 4, 2017, elucidated the following broad principles in relation to Section 482 for quashing FIRs.

  1. Section 482 preserves the inherent powers of the High Court to prevent an abuse of the process of any court or to secure the ends of justice. The provision does not confer new powers. It only recognizes and preserves powers which inhere in the High Court;

  2. The invocation of the jurisdiction of the High Court to quash a First Information Report or a criminal proceeding on the ground that a settlement has been arrived at between the offender and the victim is not the same as the invocation of jurisdiction for the purpose of compounding an offence. While compounding an offence, the power of the court is governed by the provisions of Section 320 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The power to quash under Section 482 is attracted even if the offence is non-compoundable.

  3. In forming an opinion whether a criminal proceeding or complaint should be quashed in exercise of its jurisdiction under Section 482, the High Court must evaluate whether the ends of justice would justify the exercise of the inherent power;

  4. While the inherent power of the High Court has a wide ambit and plenitude it has to be exercised; a) to secure the ends of justice or to b) prevent an abuse of the process of any court;

  5. The decision as to whether a complaint or First Information Report should be quashed on the ground that the offender and victim have settled the dispute, revolves ultimately on the facts and circumstances of each case and no exhaustive elaboration of principles can be formulated;

  6. In the exercise of the power under Section 482 and while dealing with a plea that the dispute has been settled, the High Court must have due regard to the nature and gravity of the offence. Heinous and serious offences involving mental depravity or offences such as murder, rape and dacoity cannot appropriately be quashed though the victim or the family of the victim have settled the dispute. Such offences are, truly speaking, not private in nature but have a serious impact upon society. The decision to continue with the trial in such cases is founded on the overriding element of public interest in punishing persons for serious offences

  7. As distinguished from serious offences, there may be criminal cases which have an overwhelming or predominant element of a civil dispute. They stand on a distinct footing in so far as the exercise of the inherent power to quash is concerned;

  8. Criminal cases involving offences which arise from commercial, financial, mercantile, partnership or similar transactions with an essentially civil flavour may in appropriate situations fall for quashing where parties have settled the dispute;

  9. In such a case, the High Court may quash the criminal proceeding if in view of the compromise between the disputants, the possibility of a conviction is remote and the continuation of a criminal proceeding would cause oppression and prejudice; and

  10. There is yet an exception to the principle set out in propositions (viii) and (ix) above. Economic offences involving the financial and economic well-being of the state have implications which lie beyond the domain of a mere dispute between private disputants. The High Court would be justified in declining to quash where the offender is involved in an activity akin to a financial or economic fraud or misdemeanour. The consequences of the act complained of upon the financial or economic system will weigh in the balance.


Conclusion

The power to quash FIR is given to the High Court to secure the ends of justice. However, sometimes this power becomes a means to take away the very justice from the victim.

The power of quashing FIR is been subject to criticism as there is a very thin line or we can say no line of accountability on the power exercised by High court. It is alleged that the power of the High Court to quash FIR has become an instrument of the influential’s. In the case of Rupan Deo Bajaj v K.P.S. Gill,[13] where Mr KPS Gill a very high-end bureaucrat has outraged the modesty of Mrs Rupan Deo Bajaj who was also a bureaucrat in a professional party. The Punjab and Haryana High court has quashed the FIR registered against Mr K. P. S. Gill observing that the issue for which the FIR is filed is very trivial. This decision was eventually got reversed by the Supreme Court in an appeal preferred by Mrs Rupan Deo Bajaj. This case is just one example where the inherent power of the high court is been misused. There are lots of such instances where the inherent power are exercised in the favour of those who are influential’s.

There is a dire need to fix accountability of the High Court in exercising its inherent power. Though the Supreme Court has time to time tried to do that but still, there is more to do in that direction of preventing misuse of these ‘inherent power’ of the court to quash the FIR.

[1]Nidhi Vaidya and Raghvendra Singh Raghuvanshi, First Information Report (FIR) — Modes of Lodging and Legal Aspects of Credibility, SSRN (February 25, 2010), https://ssrn.com/abstract=1558974 . [2] Narinder Singh v. the State of Punjab, (2014) 6 SCC 466 (India). [3] Sumit Kumar v The State of Himachal Pradesh, 2020 SCC OnLine HP 436 (India). [4] Chirag Sundarlal Gupta v State of Maharashtra, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 627 (India). [5] Narinder Singh v State of Punjab, (2014)6 SCC 466 (India). [6] Anand Kumar Mohatta and Anr v State (Government of NCT of Delhi), Criminal Appeal No 1395 of 2018 (India). [7] State of Karnataka v L. Muniswami and others, 1977 SCC (Cri) 404 (India). [8] Rakhi Mishra v State of Bihar, Criminal Appeal No. 1499 of 2017 (India). [9] Jehan Jehan Singh v. Delhi Administration, 1974 SCC (Cri) 558 (India). [10] J.R.D. Tata, Chairman TI & S. Co. Ltd. v. PayaJ Kumar, 1987 Cri.L.J. 447 (India). [11] 1977 SCC (Cri) 613 [12] Parbatbhai Aahir & Ors. V State of Gujarat & Anr., Criminal Appeal No. 1723 of 2017 (India). [13] Mrs. Rupan Deol Bajaj & Anr vs Kanwar Pal Singh Gill & Anr, 1996 AIR 309 (India).

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