Criminal Appeal No. 829 of 2005 and Special Leave Petition (Crl.) Nos. 5687-5688 of 2013. Case: 1. Mrs. Sarah Mathew, 2. HT Media Ltd. and Ors. Vs 1. The Institute of Cardio Vascular Diseases by its Director Dr. K.M. Cherian and Ors., 2. State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi), [Alongwith Special Leave Petition (Crl.) No. 5764 of 2013]. Supreme Court

Case Number:Criminal Appeal No. 829 of 2005 and Special Leave Petition (Crl.) Nos. 5687-5688 of 2013
Party Name:1. Mrs. Sarah Mathew, 2. HT Media Ltd. and Ors. Vs 1. The Institute of Cardio Vascular Diseases by its Director Dr. K.M. Cherian and Ors., 2. State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi), [Alongwith Special Leave Petition (Crl.) No. 5764 of 2013]
Judges:P. Sathasivam, C.J.I., Balbir Singh Chauhan, Ranjana Prakash Desai, Ranjan Gogoi and Sharad Arvind Bobde, JJ.
Issue:Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 - Section 9; Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881; Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954; Trade and Merchandise Marks Act, 1958; Police Act, 1861; Factories Act, 1948; Army Act, 1950; Limitation Act, 1963 - Section 5; Merchandise Marks Act, 1889 - Section 15; Public Premises (Eviction...
Judgement Date:November 26, 2013
Court:Supreme Court
 
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Judgment:

Ranjana Prakash Desai, J.

1. While dealing with Criminal Appeal No. 829 of 2005 a two-Judge Bench of this Court noticed a conflict between a two-Judge Bench decision of this Court in Bharat Damodar K ale and Anr. v. State of Andhra Pradesh (2003) 8 SCC 559 which is followed in another two-Judge Bench decision in Japani Sahoo v. Chandra Sekhar Mohanty (2007) 7 SCC 394 and a three-Judge Bench decision of this Court in Krishna Pillai v. T.A. Rajendran and Anr. (1990) supp. SCC 121. In Bharat Kale it was held that for the purpose of computing the period of limitation, the relevant date is the date of filing of complaint or initiating criminal proceedings and not the date of taking cognizance by a Magistrate or issuance of a process by court. In Krishna Pillai this Court was concerned with Section 9 of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 which stated that no court shall take cognizance of any offence under the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 after the expiry of one year from the date on which the offence is alleged to have been committed. The three-Judge Bench held that since magisterial action in the case before it was beyond the period of one year from the date of commission of the offence, the Magistrate was not competent to take cognizance when he did in view of bar under Section 9 of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929. Thus, there was apparent conflict on the question whether for the purpose of computing the period of limitation under Section 468 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short 'the Code of Criminal Procedure') in respect of a criminal complaint the relevant date is the date of filing of the complaint or the date of institution of prosecution or whether the relevant date is the date on which a Magistrate takes cognizance. The two-Judge Bench, therefore, directed that this case may be put up before a three-Judge Bench for an authoritative pronouncement. When the matter was placed before the three-Judge Bench, the three-Judge Bench doubted the correctness of Krishna Pillai and observed that as a co-ordinate Bench, it cannot declare that Krishna Pillai does not lay down the correct law and, therefore, the matter needs to be referred to a five-Judge Bench to examine the correctness of the view taken in Krishna Pillai. Accordingly, this appeal along with other matters where similar issue is involved is placed before this Constitution Bench.

2. No specific questions have been referred to us. But, in our opinion, the following questions arise for our consideration:

  1. Whether for the purposes of computing the period of limitation under Section 468 of the Code of Criminal Procedure the relevant date is the date of filing of the complaint or the date of institution of prosecution or whether the relevant date is the date on which a Magistrate takes cognizance of the offence?

  2. Which of the two cases i.e. Krishna Pillai or Bharat Kale (which is followed in Japani Sahoo) lays down the correct law.

3. We have heard learned Counsel for the parties at great length and carefully read their written submissions. We may give gist of their submissions and then proceed to answer the questions which fall for our consideration.

4. Gist of submissions of Mr. Krishnamurthi Swami, learned Counsel for the Appellant in Criminal Appeal No. 829 of 2005.

  1. Krishna Pillai was rendered in the context of Section 9 of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929. There is no reference to either Section 468 or Section 473 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in this judgment. This judgment merely focuses on the meaning of the term 'taking cognizance' and has accordingly interpreted Section 9 without reference to any provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure Hence, this judgment cannot be considered authority for the purposes of interpretation of provisions of Chapter XXXVI. On the other hand Bharat Kale considers various provisions of Chapter XXXVI. All the provisions have been cumulatively read to conclude that the limitation prescribed is not for taking cognizance within the period of limitation, but for taking cognizance of an offence in regard to which a complaint is filed or prosecution is initiated within the period of the limitation prescribed under the Code of Criminal Procedure This judgment lays down the correct law.

  2. Section 468 of the Code of Criminal Procedure has to be read keeping in view other provisions particularly Section 473 of the Code of Criminal Procedure A person filing a complaint within time cannot be penalized because the Magistrate did not take cognizance. A person filing a complaint after the period of limitation can file an application for condonation of delay and the Magistrate could condone delay if the explanation is reasonable. If Section 468 is interpreted to mean that a Magistrate cannot take cognizance of an offence after the period of limitation without any reference to the date of filing of the complaint or the institution of the prosecution it would be rendered unconstitutional. A court of law would interpret a provision which would help sustaining the validity of the law by applying the doctrine of reasonable construction rather than accepting an interpretation which may make such provision unsustainable and ultra vires the Constitution. [U.P. Power Corporation Ltd. v. Ayodhya Prasad Mishra and Anr. (2008) 10 SCC 139.

  3. Chapter XXXVI requires to be harmoniously interpreted keeping the interests of both the complainant as well as the accused in mind.

  4. The law of limitation should be interpreted from the standpoint of the person who exercises the right and whose remedy would be barred. The laws of limitation do not extinguish the right but only bar the remedy. [Mela Ram v. The Commissioner of Income Tax Punjab 1956 SCR 166].

  5. If delay in filing a complaint can be condoned in terms of Section 473 of the Code of Criminal Procedure then, Section 468 of the Code of Criminal Procedure cannot be interpreted to mean that a complaint or prosecution instituted within time cannot be proceeded with, merely because the Magistrate took cognizance after the period of limitation.

  6. The question of delay in launching a criminal prosecution may be a circumstance to be taken into consideration while arriving at a final decision. However, the same may not by itself be a ground for dismissing the complaint at the threshold. [Udai Shankar Awasthi v. State of U.P. and Anr. (2013) 2 SCC 435]. In certain exceptional circumstances delay may have to be condoned considering the gravity of the charge.

  7. The contention that Section 468 should be interpreted to mean that where the Magistrate does not take cognizance within the period of limitation it must be treated as having the object of giving quietus to petty offences in the Indian Penal Code is untenable. Some offences which fall within the periods of limitation specified in Section 468 of the Code of Criminal Procedure are serious. It could never have been the intention of the legislature to accord quietus to such offences.

  8. Procedure is meant to sub-serve and not rule the cause of justice. Procedural laws must be liberally construed to really serve as handmaid. Technical objections which tend to defeat and deny substantial justice should be strictly discouraged. [Sushil Kumar Jain v. State of Bihar 1975 (3) SCR 944, Sardar Amarjeet Singh Kalra (dead) by L.Rs. and Ors. v. Pramod Gupta (dead) by L.Rs. and Ors. (2003) 3 SCC 272, Kailash v. Nanhku and Ors. (2005) 4 SCC 480.]

    5. Gist of submissions of Mr. S. Guru Krishnakumar, learned senior counsel and Mrs. V. Mohana, learned Counsel for Respondent 1 in Criminal Appeal No. 829 of 2005.

  9. Bharat Kale and Japani Sahoo do not represent the correct position in law. Krishna Pillai rightly holds that the relevant date for considering period of limitation is the date of taking cognizance.

  10. The settled principles of statutory construction require that the expression 'cognizance' occurring in Chapter XXXVI of the Code of Criminal Procedure has to be given its legal sense, since it has acquired a special connotation in criminal law. It is a settled position in law that taking cognizance is judicial application of mind to the contents of a complaint/police report for the first time. [R.R. Chari v. The State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1951 SC 207, Bhushan Kumar and Anr. v. State (NCT of Delhi) and Anr. (2012) 5 SCC 424]. If an expression has acquired a special connotation in law, dictionary or general meaning ceases to be helpful in interpreting such a word. Such an expression must be given its legal meaning and no other. [State of Madras v. Gannon Dukerley and Co. (Madras) Ltd. 1959 SCR 379].

  11. The heading of Chapter XXXVI providing for limitation for taking cognizance of certain offences is clearly reflective of the legislative intent to treat the date of taking cognizance as the relevant date in computing limitation. Pertinently, Section 467 defines the expression 'period of limitation' as the period specified in Section 468 for taking cognizance of an offence. The express language of Section 468 makes it clear that the legislature considers the relevant date for computing the date of limitation to be the date of taking cognizance and not the date of filing of a complaint. Further, the situations in Section 470 of the Code of Criminal Procedure providing for exclusion in computing the period of limitation are again relatable to taking cognizance and institution of prosecution. So also, exclusion under Section 471 of the Code of Criminal Procedure relates only to taking cognizance and Section 473 of the Code of Criminal Procedure also provides for extension of period of limitation in taking cognizance.

  12. The scheme of the Code of Criminal Procedure envisages cognizance to be the point of initiation of proceedings. Chapter XIV of the Code of Criminal Procedure which contains provisions of taking cognizance is titled "Conditions requisite for initiation of proceedings". All provisions...

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