Punishment not sole form of delivering justice: SC

Handing out punishment is not the sole form of delivering justice: SC

The bench pointed out that the touchstone for exercising the extraordinary power under Section 482 would be to secure the ends of justice

The court dealt with the provisions of the law while setting aside convictions in two appeals against the Madhya Pradesh and the Karnataka High Court judgements. Credit: PTI File Photo

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said handing out punishment was not the sole form of delivering justice as the societal method of applying laws evenly is always subject to exceptions.

A bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justice Surya Kant said that criminal proceedings involving non-heinous offences or where the offences are predominantly of a private nature can be annulled irrespective of the fact that trial has already been concluded or appeal stands dismissed against conviction.

The top court declared that the High Court, after noting the nature of the offence and the fact that parties have amicably settled their dispute and the victim has willingly consented to the nullification of criminal proceedings, can quash such proceedings in exercise of its inherent powers under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code even if the offences are non-compoundable. 

The bench pointed out that the touchstone for exercising the extraordinary power under Section 482 would be to secure the ends of justice.

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However, in the case of grave offences, the bench said offences that involve moral turpitude or have a harmful effect on the social and moral fabric of the society, cannot be construed between two individuals or groups only, as they have the potential to impact the society at large.

The top court said the High Court can “adopt a pragmatic approach, to ensure that the felony, even if goes unpunished, does not tinker with or paralyse the very object of the administration of criminal justice system”. 

Effacing abominable offences through quashing process would not only send a wrong signal to the community but may also accord an undue benefit to unscrupulous habitual or professional offenders, who can secure a ‘settlement’ through duress, threats, social boycotts, bribes or other dubious means, it added.

Maintaining that it is well said that “let no guilty man escape, if it can be avoided", the top court said powers of the High Court under Section 482 of CrPC and the Supreme Court under Article 142 of the Constitution, ought to be exercised carefully in the context of quashing criminal proceedings. 

The court dealt with the provisions of the law while setting aside convictions in two appeals against the Madhya Pradesh and the Karnataka High Court judgements, which declined to compound offences though the parties had arrived at compromise.

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