Is it permissible for a high court, acting in the exercise of its inherent powers under Section 482 of Cr.P.C., to order quashing of the proceedings on the basis of an amicable settlement between the parties in a criminal case involving offences which are non-compoundable under Section 320 of Cr.P.C.?
Answer: The answer to your question is a mixed one. It depends on the facts and circumstances of the case.
Firstly, it should be clear that in Section 320 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.), the Parliament has already laid down a long list of offences which can be compounded (or compromised) by the parties. This section lists two types of offences which can be compounded or compromised.
The first table or list contains the offences which can be compounded by the parties themselves. These are offences under Sections 298, 323, 334, 335, 341, 342, 343, 344, 346, 352, 355, 358, 379, 403, 407, 411, 414, 417, 419, 421, 422, 423, 424, 426, 427, 428, 429, 430, 447, 448, 451, 482, 483, 486, 491, 497, 498, 500 (for some categories), 501, 502, 504, 506 and 508 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which can be compounded subject to conditions mentioned for these respective offences (such as, who can compound them).
The second table or list contains the offences which can be compounded by the parties with the permission of the court. These offences are under Sections 312, 325, 337, 338, 357, 381, 406, 408, 418, 420, 494, 500 (for some categories) and 509 of IPC, which can be compounded subject to conditions mentioned for these respective offences.
Offences other than those mentioned in Section 320 Cr.P.C. are non-compoundable, i.e., they cannot be compounded under normal situations.
However, there may be situations where both the parties have resolved their differences and have amicably settled the matter. In such situations, what would happen? Can such non-compoundable offence be compromised and criminal proceedings be quashed on the request of the parties? Yes, it may happen in some situations. It can be done in certain situations by the High Courts in exercise of their powers under Section 482 of Cr.P.C, and by the Supreme Court in exercise of its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution; both these legal provisions are reproduced below:
“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.”
“142. Enforcement of decrees and orders of Supreme Court and orders as to discovery, etc.—(1) The Supreme Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it, and any decree so passed or order so made shall be enforceable throughout the territory of India in such manner as may be prescribed by or under any law made by Parliament and, until provision in that behalf is so made, in such manner as the President may by order prescribe.
(2) Subject to the provisions of any law made in this behalf by Parliament, the Supreme Court shall, as respects the whole of the territory of India, have all and every power to make any order for the purpose of securing the attendance of any person, the discovery or production of any documents, or the investigation or punishment of any contempt of itself.”
Now, coming back to your question, the High Courts have the power to order quashing of a criminal proceeding even in a non-compoundable offence, though this power is not absolute and the exercise of this power is subject to certain limitations, depending on facts and circumstances of each case. A high court cannot quash proceedings in each and every non-compoundable offence; it can be done in only certain types of non-compoundable offences.
In this regard, a 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court in the recent case of Gian Singh v. State of Punjab, (2012) 10 SCC 303 : AIR 2012 SC Supp 838 : 2012 Cri LJ 4934, has laid down detailed guidelines in this regard. The relevant observations of the Supreme Court in this regard are as under:
“61. The position that emerges from the above discussion can be summarised thus: the power of the High Court in quashing a criminal proceeding or FIR or complaint in exercise of its inherent jurisdiction is distinct and different from the power given to a criminal court for compounding the offences under Section 320 of the Code. Inherent power is of wide plenitude with no statutory limitation but it has to be exercised in accord with the guideline engrafted in such power viz.: (i) to secure the ends of justice, or (ii) to prevent abuse of the process of any court. In what cases power to quash the criminal proceeding or complaint or FIR may be exercised where the offender and the victim have settled their dispute would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case and no category can be prescribed. However, before exercise of such power, the High Court must have due regard to the nature and gravity of the crime. Heinous and serious offences of mental depravity or offences like murder, rape, dacoity, etc. cannot be fittingly quashed even though the victim or victim’s family and the offender have settled the dispute. Such offences are not private in nature and have a serious impact on society. Similarly, any compromise between the victim and the offender in relation to the offences under special statutes like the Prevention of Corruption Act or the offences committed by public servants while working in that capacity, etc.; cannot provide for any basis for quashing criminal proceedings involving such offences. But the criminal cases having overwhelmingly and predominatingly civil flavour stand on a different footing for the purposes of quashing, particularly the offences arising from commercial, financial, mercantile, civil, partnership or such like transactions or the offences arising out of matrimony relating to dowry, etc. or the family disputes where the wrong is basically private or personal in nature and the parties have resolved their entire dispute. In this category of cases, the High Court may quash the criminal proceedings if in its view, because of the compromise between the offender and the victim, the possibility of conviction is remote and bleak and continuation of the criminal case would put the accused to great oppression and prejudice and extreme injustice would be caused to him by not quashing the criminal case despite full and complete settlement and compromise with the victim. In other words, the High Court must consider whether it would be unfair or contrary to the interest of justice to continue with the criminal proceeding or continuation of the criminal proceeding would tantamount to abuse of process of law despite settlement and compromise between the victim and the wrongdoer and whether to secure the ends of justice, it is appropriate that the criminal case is put to an end and if the answer to the above question(s) is in the affirmative, the High Court shall be well within its jurisdiction to quash the criminal proceeding.”
The aforesaid directions of the Supreme Court have been followed in certain other subsequent cases.
Thus, the basic principle is that it is possible for a high court to quash criminal proceedings even in a non-compoundable offence, subject mainly to the above guidelines. Heinous and serious offences like murder, rape, dacoity, etc. cannot be quashed even though the victim or victim’s family and the offender have settled the dispute. Similarly, corruption cases and other similar offences committed by public servants cannot be quashed. But, criminal cases which are mainly of civil nature, particularly the offences arising from commercial, financial, mercantile, civil, partnership or such like transactions or the offences arising out of matrimony relating to dowry, etc. or the family disputes where the wrong is basically private or personal in nature and the parties have resolved their entire dispute, may be quashed by the high courts. So, it all depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.