The Supreme Court noted that, in the Shambhu Kewat Case, it was observed that the power of a criminal court is circumscribed by Section 320 of the CrPC while compounding of offenses and it is guided solely by it. On the other hand, the high court is guided by the material on record to form an opinion on whether to quash a criminal complaint in exercise of its power under Section 482 of the CrPC. The exercise of this power is to meet the ends of justice, although the ultimate consequence of this may be acquittal or dismissal of an indictment.
The power of the High Court in quashing any 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 offenses 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 F.I.R may be exercised where the offender and victim have settled their dispute would depend on the facts and circumstances of each case and no category can be prescribed. However, before exercising such power, the High Court must have due regard to the nature and gravity of the crime. Heinous and serious offenses of mental depravity or offenses like murder, rape, dacoity, etc. cannot be fittingly quashed even though the victim or victim’s family and the offender have settled the dispute.
In light of catena of decisions and considering the law on the point, the Supreme Court laid down the following guidelines for quashing criminal proceeding in case of non-compoundable offenses by high courts when invoking their inherent powers under Section 482 of the CrPC:
- Predominantly civil nature of offense – The power conferred on high Courts under Section 482 of the CrPC to quash criminal proceeding for non-compoundable offenses under Section 320 of the CrPC can be exercised where the offense involved is merely a predominantly civil and commercial matter;
- Heinous and serious offenses – High courts must refrain from quashing criminal proceedings if the offense is a heinous and serious offense which has a serious impact on society;
- Offenses under Section 307 IPC – Even though the offense under Section 307 IPC falls under the category of heinous and serious offenses and is against the society, the high courts may not rest its decision merely on the fact that the offense involved is under Section 307 of the IPC. The high court may examine whether the incorporation of Section 307 of the IPC is for namesake or there is enough evidence to prove it. For this purpose, the high court may examine the nature of the injury, whether the injury is on a vital body part, the nature of the weapon used, etc. This would be permissible only after the evidence is collected and the charge-sheet is filed / charge is framed and / or during the trial. It is not permissible when the matter is under investigation;
- Special statutes – The high court must refrain from quashing the criminal proceeding based on a compromise between the victim and the offender if the offense is under a special statute like Prevention of Corruption Act or committed by public servants while working in that capacity;
- Antecedents/conduct of the accused – When the offenses involved are private, the high court, while exercising its power under Section 482 of the CrPC in respect of non-compoundable offenses on the ground that there is a compromise/settlement between the victim and accused, is required to consider the antecedents and conduct of the accused.
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 wrongdoer and whether to secure the ends of justice, it is appropriate that criminal case is put to an end and if the answer to the above question(s) is in affirmative, the High Court shall be well within its jurisdiction to quash the criminal proceeding.