SUPREME COURT REFUSES TO QUASH CHARGES FRAMED AGAINST THE PETITIONER OWING TO SUSPICION OF INVOLVEMENT IN CONSPIRACY WITH MAIN ACCUSED
In a recent case of Supriya Jain vs State of Haryana and Anr. Criminal Appeal No. 1780 of 2023, a two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Dipankar Datta passed a Judgment dated 04-07-2023 and observed that at the initial stage of trial, the Court ought to be inclined towards permitting continuation of prosecution rather than quashing the charges, if the Court is satisfied about commission of offence.
1) In the present case, the main Accused, Purnima Jain, sister of the Petitioner, Supriya Jain was alleged to have committed cheating and fraud by alluring the Complainant-Respondent No. 2, Shashi Singh to part with Rs. 45 Lakhs, partly in cash and partly by RTGS for establishing a pharmaceutical company which would be engaged in the manufacture of ayurvedic medicines.
2) That the Complainant further alleged that the Accused-Purnima Jain’s husband and sister i.e. the Petitioner herein, had engaged in criminal conspiracy with the Accused in defrauding the Complainant and also alleged that the Petitioner had assured the Complainant about the Accused and her business activities.
3) Hence, the Complainant filed a Complaint at Thanesar Police Station, Kurukshetra, Haryana, against the main Accused, her husband, the Petitioner and four other persons, which was registered as FIR No. 658 dated 02-08-2020 under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC) i.e. Sections 120-B IPC (Punishment of criminal conspiracy), 379 IPC (Punishment for theft), 406 IPC (Punishment for criminal breach of trust), 420 IPC (Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), and 506 IPC (Punishment for criminal intimidation). The offence pertaining to theft under Section 379 IPC was subsequently added in the FIR, two days after registration of the FIR based on the Complaint of 04-08-2020 made by Complainant.
4) That the Police submitted a Police Report dated 14-02-2022 under Section 173 (2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 (CrPC) (Report of police officer on completion of investigation) against the Petitioner i.e. sister of the main Accused before the Ld. Chief Judicial Magistrate, Kurukshetra (Trial Court).
5) The Trial Court vide Order dated 18-07-2022, framed charges under the aforementioned provisions of IPC against the Petitioner.
6) Aggrieved by the Trial Court Order dated 18-07-2022, the Petitioner filed a Revision Petition against the Trial Court Order dated 18-07-2022 before the Ld. Additional Sessions Judge, Kurukshetra (Revisional Court), which was dismissed vide Order dated 27-09-2022.
7) Aggrieved by the Revisional Court Order dated 27-09-2022, the Petitioner filed a Criminal Main Petition bearing CRM-M-51521-2022 before the High Court of Punjab and Haryana at Chandigarh, seeking quashing of the charges framed against the Petitioner under Section 482 CrPC (Saving of inherent power of High Court) and thereby challenged the Police Report / Charge-Sheet dated 14-02-2022, the Trial Court Order dated 18-07-2022 and the Revisional Court Order dated 27-09-2022.
8) That the High Court vide Order dated 11-11-2022 observed that at the time of framing of charge(s) under Section 228 CrPC (Framing of charge) and while exercising inherent powers under Section 482 CrPC, (i) the Court is required to only see whether a prima-facie case has made out against the accused and whether there is any strong suspicion against the accused and (ii) not to examine the entire evidence or conduct a mini trial or to see whether there is sufficient ground for conviction of the accused or not. (iii) In the present case, the charges were framed based on sufficient material found against the Petitioner. Hence, the High Court dismissed the Criminal Main Petition filed by the Petitioner.
Supreme Court Observations
Aggrieved by the High Court Order dated 11-11-2022, the Petitioner filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) bearing SLP (Crl.) No. 3662 of 2023, which was registered as Criminal Appeal No. 1780 of 2023 before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The Apex Court vide Judgment dated 04-07-2023, made the following observations:
i) That the principles to be borne in mind by High Court while dealing with quashing of a charge under Section 482 CrPC are as follows:
a) Whether the uncontroverted allegations as made from the record of the case and the documents submitted therewith prima facie establish the offence or not. If yes, the Court ought not to interfere.
b) If the allegations are so patently absurd and inherently improbable that no prudent person can ever reach such a conclusion and where the basic ingredients of a criminal offence are not satisfied, then the Court may interfere.
c) Where the allegations made and as they appeared from the record and documents annexed therewith to predominantly give rise and constitute a ‘civil wrong’ with no ‘element of criminality’ and does not satisfy the basic ingredients of a criminal offence, the court may be justified in quashing the charge.
d) Quashing of a charge is an exception to the rule of continuous prosecution. Where the offence is even broadly satisfied, the Court should be more inclined to permit continuation of prosecution rather than its quashing at that initial stage. The Court is not expected to marshal the records with a view to decide admissibility and reliability of the documents or records but is an opinion formed prima facie.
e) No meticulous examination of the evidence is needed for considering whether the case would end in conviction or not at the stage of framing of charge or quashing of charge.
f) Where there is an express legal bar enacted in any of the provisions of the Code or any specific law in force to the very initiation or institution and continuance of such criminal proceeding.
g) The Court has a duty to balance the freedom of a person and the right of the complainant or prosecution to investigate and prosecute the offender.
ii) That in the present case, the charges were framed against the Petitioner based on various material evidences including call detail records pertaining to conversations exchanged between the Petitioner and the Complainant. Further, the Prosecution had names 27 witnesses which they proposed to examine in support of the charges framed against the Petitioner including the sister-in-law of the Complainant who is said to have been present at the place where allegedly money changed hands.
iii) Further, applying the aforesaid principles to the present facts, the Bench held that the allegations that the Petitioner was found counting the cash received by the main Accused from the Complainant in the presence of a listed witness and that she was involved in conspiracy with the main Accused to cheat and defraud the Complainant, were substantial grounds to permit continuation of trial against the Petitioner.
Thus, based on the aforesaid observations, the Supreme Court held that although there is no prima facie opinion about the involvement of the Petitioner in the commission of the offence against the Complainant, but there was indeed a suspicion of the Petitioner’s involvement in conspiracy to commit such offences with the main Accused. Thus, the Apex Court dismissed the Appeal filed by the Petitioner and upheld the High Court Order dated 11-11-2022 that refused to quash the charges framed by the Trial Court against the Petitioner.
Quashing of FIRs is generally discretionary in nature. The very purpose of giving a right to a litigant to approach a court in quashing of FIR against him / her is to safeguard the litigant from unnecessary harassment that may be caused to such a litigant by filing of a frivolous criminal case. Generally, the grounds on which an FIR can be quashed would be lack of sufficient evidence, inability of the prosecution to establish commission of the crime by the litigant, failure to adhere to the legal process, etc. Courts are generally careful in quashing FIRs and criminal matters as they do not want guilty parties to get off the hook easily. Further, quashing can only be applied for at a particular stage and not when the trial has begun.
The Indian Lawyer
Sushila Ram Varma
The Indian Lawyer