Quashing Of Criminal Complaints Having A Civil Nature: What The Supreme Court Held

Author:Mr Anuj Berry, Malak Bhatt and PSS Bhargava
Profession:Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co

Recently, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice MR Shah in Sau. Kamal Shivaji Pokarnekar v. The State of Maharashtra1, held that criminal complaints cannot be quashed merely because the allegations made therein appear to be of a civil nature.

Brief background

The Appellant, in this case, filed a complaint in 2008 and accused the Respondents of forgery and preparing false documents. The complaint was sent for investigation and the police submitted a report stating that the matter appeared to be of a civil nature. However, the Trial Court directed issuance of process to the Respondents.

The High Court of Bombay set aside the process issued by the Trial Court pursuant to its powers under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 ("CrPC") on the ground that the dispute was of a civil nature, and criminal proceedings against the Respondents would be an abuse of the process of law.

Section 482 CrPC is the inherent power of the High Court with respect to criminal proceedings. The High Court can inter alia quash criminal proceedings in order to prevent the abuse of process of the court and secure the ends of justice under this provision.

What the Court held

The Supreme Court reiterated the settled position of law that the Magistrate must not undertake any steps to determine whether the materials on record would lead to a conviction or not at the stage of taking cognizance of offence and issuing summons. The standard that the court prescribes for quashing of criminal proceedings is that if on perusal of the complaint the court is able to come to a positive determination that the offence alleged has been made out, then the court should not quash the same. However, in prescribing such standard the court also attaches a caveat that offences should be made out from the complaint on a prima facie basis and the same should not entail any meticulous analysis of the case.

The Supreme Court laid emphasis on the principles laid down in two of its previous judgements namely, State of Karnataka v. M. Devendrappa2 and Indian Oil Corporation v. NEPC India Ltd. & Ors.3 and held that quashing of criminal proceedings is called for only when the complaint does not disclose any offence, or the complaint is frivolous, vexatious, or oppressive.

The Supreme Court further clarified that defences available during a trial and facts/aspects whose establishment during the trial may lead to acquittal cannot form the...

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