Miscellaneous Part 6

Summary of Question-    Victim’s Counsel in a criminal case

 Question –   What is the role of victim’s counsel in a criminal case. 

Answer-  Role of victim's counsel, if engaged, is only to assist the Public Prosecutor.

Rationale-

In  CRIMINAL  APPEAL  NO.  1727  OF  2019 [Rekha  Murarka    vs.    The  State  of  West  Bengal], decided on 20th. Nov. 2019, the Hon’ble Supreme Court observed and held :

"In  light  of  this,  we  now  proceed  to  consider  the  extent  to which  such  assistance  can  be  accorded.  As  mentioned  supra, learned  Senior  Counsel  for  the  Appellant  has  argued  that  there may  be  instances  where  the  Public  Prosecutor  may  fail  to  perform his  functions  properly,  whether  deliberately  or  due  to  oversight, which  may  obstruct  justice  instead  of  furthering  it.  To  meet  the ends  of  justice  in  such  cases,  he  submitted  that  the  role  of  the victim’s   counsel   should   not   be  limited   to  filing   of  written arguments  as  provided  with  respect  to  pleaders  engaged  by private  parties  under  Section  301(2).  Instead,  it  should  extend  to making  oral  arguments  and  examining  witnesses  as  well.  On  a perusal of the arguments advanced and the decisions relied on  by both  the  parties,  we  find  that  such  a  broad  mandate  for  the victim’s  counsel  cannot  be  given  effect,  as  it  is  not  rooted  in  the text  of the Cr.PC."

"The  use  of  the  term  “assist”  in  the  proviso  to  Section 24(8)  is  crucial,  and  implies  that  the  victim’s  counsel  is  only intended to  have  a  secondary  role  qua  the  Public  Prosecutor. This is  supported  by  the  fact  that  the  original  Amendment  Bill  to  the CrPC  had  used  the  words  “coordinate  with  the  prosecution”. However,  a  change  was  later  proposed  and  in  the  finally  adopted version,  the  words  “coordinate  with”  were  substituted  by  “assist”. This   change  is  reflective   of   an  intention  to  only  assign  a supportive  role  to  the  victim’s  counsel,  which  would  also  be  in consonance   with   the   limited   role   envisaged   for   pleaders instructed   by  private   persons  under  Section  301(2).  In  our considered  opinion,  a  mandate  that  allows  the  victim’s  counsel  to make oral arguments and crossexamine  witnesses goes beyond  a mere   assistive   role,   and   constitutes   a   parallel   prosecution proceeding  by  itself.  Given  the  primacy  accorded  to  the  Public Prosecutor  in  conducting  a  trial,  as  evident  from  Section  225  and Section  301(2),  permitting  such  a  free  hand  would  go  against  the scheme  envisaged under  the  CrPC."

" In  some  instances,  such  a  wide  array  of  functions  may also  have  adverse  consequences  on  the  fairness  of  a  trial.  For instance,  there  may  be  a  case  where  the  Public  Prosecutor  may make  a  strategic  call  to  examine  some  witnesses  and  leave  out others.  If  the  victim’s  counsel  insists  upon  examining  any  of  the left  out  witnesses, it  is possible that  the evidence  so  brought  forth may  weaken  the  prosecution  case.  If  given  a  free  hand,  in  some instances,  the  trial  may  even  end  up  becoming  a  vindictive  battle between  the  victim’s  counsel  and  the  accused,  which  may  further impact  the  safeguards  put  in  place  for  the  accused  in  criminal trials.    These  lapses  may  be  aggravated  by  a  lack  of  advocacy experience  on  the  part  of  the  victim’s  counsel.  In  contrast,  such dangers would  not  arise in  the case of  a  Public Prosecutor, who  is required  to  have  considerable  experience  in  the  practice  of  law, and  act  as  an  independent  officer  of  the  Court.  Thus,  it  is important  to  appreciate why  the  role of a  victim’s counsel is made subject  to  the  instructions  of  the  Public  Prosecutor,  who  occupies a   prime  position  by  virtue  of  the  increased  responsibilities shouldered by  him  with  respect  to  the conduct  of  a  criminal trial."

" At  the  same  time,  the  realities  of  criminal  prosecutions, as  they  are  conducted  today,  cannot  be  ignored.  There  is  no denying  that  Public  Prosecutors  are  often  overworked.  In  certain places,  there  may  be  a  single  Public  Prosecutor  conducting  trials in  over  23  courts.  Thus,  the  possibility  of  them  missing  out  on certain  aspects  of  the  case  cannot  be  ignored  or  discounted.  A victimcentric  approach  that  allows  for  greater  participation  of the  victim  in  the  conduct  of  the  trial  can  go  a  long  way  in plugging  such  gaps.  To  this  extent,  we  agree  with  the  submission made  by  the  learned  Senior  Counsel  for  the  Appellant  that  the introduction  of  the  proviso  to  Section  24(8)  acts  as  a  safety  valve, in as much  as  the  victim’s  counsel  can  make  up  for  any  oversights or  deficiencies  in  the  prosecution  case.  Further,  to  ensure  that the  right  of  appeal  accorded  to  a  victim  under  the  proviso  to Section  372  of  the  Cr.P.C.  is  not  rendered  meaningless  due  to  the errors  of  the  Public  Prosecutor  at  the  trial  stage  itself,  we  find that  some  significant  role  should  be  given  to  the  victim’s  counsel while  assisting  the  prosecution.  However,  while  doing  so,  the balance  inherent  in  the  scheme  of  the  CrPC  should  not  be tampered   with,   and  the  prime  role  accorded  to  the  Public Prosecutor  should not  be diluted."

" In  this  regard,  given  that  the  modalities  of  each  case  are different,  we  find  that  the  extent  of  assistance  and  the  manner  of giving  it  would  depend  on  the  facts  and  circumstances  of  each case.  Though  we  cannot  detail  and  discuss  all  possible  scenarios that  may  arise  during  a  criminal  prosecution,  we  find  that  a victim’s  counsel  should  ordinarily  not  be  given  the  right  to  make oral  arguments  or  examine  and  crossexamine  witnesses.  As stated  in  Section  301(2),  the  private  party’s  pleader  is  subject  to the   directions   of   the   Public   Prosecutor.   In   our   considered opinion,  the  same  principle  should  apply  to  the  victim’s  counsel under  the  proviso  to  Section  24(8),  as  it  adequately  ensures  that the  interests  of  the  victim  are  represented.  If  the  victim’s  counsel feels   that   a   certain   aspect   has   gone   unaddressed   in   the examination  of  the  witnesses  or  the  arguments  advanced  by  the Public  Prosecutor,  he  may  route  any  questions  or  points  through the  Public  Prosecutor  himself.  This  would  not  only  preserve  the paramount  position  of  the  Public  Prosecutor  under  the  scheme  of the  CrPC,  but  also  ensure  that  there  is  no  inconsistency  between the  case  advanced  by  the  Public  Prosecutor  and  the  victim’s counsel"

"However,  even  if  there  is  a  situation  where  the  Public Prosecutor  fails  to  highlight  some  issue  of  importance  despite  it having  been  suggested  by  the  victim’s  counsel,  the  victim’s counsel  may  still  not  be  given  the  unbridled  mantle  of  making oral  arguments  or  examining  witnesses.  This  is  because  in  such cases,  he  still  has  a  recourse  by  channelling  his  questions  or arguments  through  the  Judge  first.  For  instance,  if  the  victim’s counsel  finds  that  the  Public  Prosecutor  has  not  examined  a witness  properly  and  not  incorporated  his  suggestions  either,  he may  bring  certain  questions  to  the  notice  of  the  Court.  If  the Judge  finds  merit  in  them,  he  may  take  action  accordingly  by invoking  his  powers  under  Section  311  of  the  CrPC  or  Section 165  of  the  Indian  Evidence  Act,  1872.  In  this  regard,  we  agree with  the  observations  made  by  the  Tripura  High  Court  in  Smt. Uma  Saha  v.  State  of  Tripura  (supra)  that  the  victim’s  counsel has  a  limited  right  of  assisting  the  prosecution,  which  may extend  to  suggesting  questions  to  the  Court  or  the  prosecution, but  not  putting  them  by  himself."

 

 

 

 

Summary of Question- Quashing ; Civil Nature dispute   

Question –  Whether a criminal case can be quashed merely on this ground that it is of civil Nature.

Answer-  No.  

A Civil Dispute may also involve ingredients of an offence (s). If the situation be that in a Civil Dispute, ingredients of offence are also present then the criminal case (complaint / FIR) cannot be quashed merely on this ground that the Dispute is of Civil Nature. 

 High Court has no jurisdiction to appreciate the evidence of the proceedings under Section   482 or under Article 226, but  if, without meticulous analysis of the case and without appreciation of Evidence / Defence of the accused , it appears to the High Court that the  ingredients of an offence or offences are, prima face, not fulfilled,  and that the complaint / FIR is mala fide, frivolous or vexatious, and  is just to pressurize parties to settle civil disputes , in that event there would be justification for interference by the High Court for quashing ; it the paramount duties of the superior court  to see that a  person, who is absolutely innocent, is not subjected to prosecution and humiliation on the basis of a false and wholly untenable complaint /FIR.

 Although High Court in the matter of quashing cannot, ordinarily, appreciate a document relied by the accused, a public document or a document veracity of which is not disputed by the complainant, can be considered by High Court in deciding a petition for quashing. 

 Rationale-

1.  In Arun Bhandari Vs. State of UP 2013(2) SCC 801, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held:
" .... some times a case may apparently look to be of civil nature or may involve a commercial transaction but such civil disputes or commercial disputes in certain circumstances may also contain ingredients of criminal offences and such disputes have to be entertained notwithstanding they are also civil disputes"

"This Court has time and again drawn attention to the growing tendency of the complainants attempting to give the cloak of a criminal offence to matters which are essentially and purely civil in nature, obviously either to apply pressure on the accused, or out of enmity towards the accused, or to subject the accused to harassment. Criminal courts should ensure that proceedings before it are not used for settling scores or to pressurize parties to settle civil disputes. But at the same time, it should be noted that several disputes of a civil nature may also contain the ingredients of criminal offences and if so, will have to be tried as criminal offences, even if they also amount to civil disputes"

                                                                                                   
".... meticulous analysis of the case is not necessary and the complaint has to be read as a whole and if it appears that on consideration of the allegations in the light of the statement made on oath of the complainant that the ingredients of the offence or offences are disclosed and there is no material to show that the complaint is mala fide, frivolous or vexatious, in that event there would be no justification for interference by the High Court."
 

".. one of the paramount duties of the superior court is to see that person who is absolutely innocent is not subjected to prosecution and humiliation on the basis of a false and wholly untenable complaint" 


2. In CRIMINAL APPEAL No. 675 of  2019 , decided on 15th. April 2019, the Apex Court examined the following findings of  the Hon’ble Patna High :

“6. On perusal of complaint petition, I find that   the complainant has asserted that firstly, he had contracted for purchasing the shop premises from the land owner, but the petitioners offered more money and got the document registered in their favour. There is no chit of paper on record to support the agreement of sale or payment of any amount to the land owner. The petitioners claim to be bona fide purchaser of the shop premises, which was in tenancy of the complainant. The   petitioners have filed an Eviction Suit No.10 of 2012, in which the complainant has filed his written statement admitting tenancy in the said shop premises. The complainant has further asserted that he has been remitting rent of the said shop regularly and when he learnt about the transfer of shop premises in favour of the petitioners, the complainant has filed a Title Suit No.2 of 2012. The dispute between the parties appears to be a civil dispute. The relationship of landlord and tenant stands admitted by the complainant in the eviction suit. I further find that there are contradictions in the statement of witnesses on the point of occurrence. The criminal prosecution of these petitioners in the above background appears to be an abuse of process of Court.”

2.1. The Apex court found two errors in the said findings and held :

i. “ First   error   is   that   the   High   Court   did   not examine   the   case   with   a   view   to   find   out   as   to whether   the   allegations   made   in   the   complaint
prima   facie  make   out   the   offences   falling   under Sections 323, 379 read with Section 34 IPC or not."

“Instead   the   High   Court   in   Para   6   gave importance   to   the   fact   that   since   there   was   a dispute   pending   between  the   parties   in   the  Civil Court in relation to a shop as being landlord and tenant, it is essentially a civil dispute between the
parties”

"The High Court failed to see that mere pendency of a civil suit is not an answer to the question as to whether a case under Sections 323, 379 read with Section 34 IPC is made out against respondent Nos. 2 and 3 or not."

ii. "The second error is that the High Court in para 6 held that there are contradictions in the statements of the witnesses on the point of occurrence."

"In our view, the High Court had no jurisdiction to appreciate the evidence of the proceedings under Section 482 of the Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short “Cr.P.C.”) because whether there are contradictions or/and inconsistencies in the statements of the witnesses is essentially an issue relating to appreciation of evidence and the same can be gone into by the Judicial Magistrate during trial when the entire evidence is adduced by the parties. That stage is yet to come in this case."

3. In Criminal Appeal No. 255 of 2019 , decided on 12th. Feb. 2019, the Hon’ble Supreme Court refered to  2015 (3) SCC 424, 2002 (3) SCC 89 and 2006 (6) SCC 736, and observed and held :

"... Criminal complaints cannot be quashed only on the ground that the allegations made therein appear to be of a civil nature. If the ingredients of the offence alleged against the accused are prima facie made out in the complaint, the criminal proceeding shall not be interdicted."

4. In AIR 2000 SC 1869 , the Hon’ble Supreme Court observed held as under:

“Exercise of jurisdiction under the inherent power as envisaged in Section 482 of the Code to have the complaint or the charge-sheet quashed is an exception rather a rule and the case for quashing at the initial stage must have to be treated as rarest of rare so as not to scuttle the prosecution. With the lodgment of First Information Report the ball is set to roll and thenceforth the law takes its own course and the investigation ensues in accordance with the provisions of law. The jurisdiction as such is rather limited and restricted and its undue expansion is neither practicable nor warranted. In the event, however, the court on perusal of the complaint comes to a conclusion that the allegations leveled in the complaint or charge-sheet on the face of it does not constitute or disclose any offence as alleged, there ought not to be any hesitation to rise upto the expectation of the people and deal with the situation as is required under the law.
Frustrated litigants ought not to be indulged to give vent to their vindictiveness through a legal process and such an investigation ought not to be allowed to be continued since the same is opposed to the concept of justice, which is paramount."

" Needless to record however and it being a settled principle of law that to exercise powers under Section 482 of the Code, the complaint in its entirety shall have to be examined on the basis of the allegation made in the complaint and the High Court at that stage has no authority or jurisdiction to go into the matter or examine its correctness. Whatever appears on the face of the complaint shall be taken into consideration without any critical examination of the same. But the offence ought to appear ex facie on the complaint."

" Be it noted that in the matter of exercise of High Court's inherent power, the only requirement is to see whether continuance of the proceeding would be a total abuse of the process of Court. The Criminal Procedure Code contains a detailed procedure for investigation, charge and trial, and in the event, the High Court is desirous of putting a stop to the known procedure of law, the High Court must use a proper circumspection and as noticed above, very great care and caution to quash the complaint in exercise of its inherent jurisdiction."

 5.  In a petition for quashing under section 482 crpc, High Court can consider a document, relied by the accused, if  the document is a public document or a document, veracity of which is not disputed.

5.1. A three judge bench decision in CRIMINAL APPEAL No.254 OF 2015, decided on 3.10.2018, observed and held :

"Ordinarily and in the normal course, the High Court when approached for quashing of a criminal proceeding will not appreciate the defence of the accused; neither would it consider the veracity of the document(s) on which the accused relies. However an exception has been carved out by this Court in Yin Cheng Hsiung Vs. Essem ChemicalIndustries (1) ; State of Haryana & Ors. Vs Bhajan Lal& Ors. (2) and Harshendra Kumar D. Vs. Rebatilata Koley Etc.(3) to the effect that in an appropriate case where the document relied upon is a public document or where veracity thereof is not disputed by the complainant, the same can be considered."
 

1 2011(15) SCC 207
2 1992 Supp.(1) SC 335
3 (2011) 3 SCC 351

 

6. In Hridaya Ranjan Prasad Verma vs. State of Bihar (2000) 4 SCC 168, the Hon’ble Supreme Court made a distinction between a mere breach of contract and an offence of cheating in the following words:
“It is held time and again that the distinction between mere breach of contract and the offence of cheating is a fine one.It would depend upon the intention of the accused at the time of inducement, which may be judged by his subsequent conduct but for this subsequent conduct is not the sole test. Mere breach of contract cannot give rise to criminal prosecution for cheating unless fraudulent or dishonest intention is shown right at the beginning of transaction that is the time when the offence is said to have been committed. Therefore, it is the intention which is gist of the offence. To hold a person guilty of cheating, it is necessary to show that he had fraudulent or dishonest intention at the time of making the promise. From his mere failure to keep up promise subsequently such an culpable intention right at the beginning that is when he made the  cannot be presumed."

6.1.  As such, if from the plain reading of Complaint read with deposition / FIR,   ingredients of cheating (including that the accused had no fraudulent or dishonest intention at the time of entering into contract / making of promise)  are , prima facie, not fulfilled ,   the complaint /FIR may be quashed under Article 226 / Section 482 Cr.P.C

 

7. In CRIMINAL  APPEAL  NO.  834  of  2017 ( The Commissioner  of Police vs. Devender ), decided on the 8th. August 2019, a Three Judge Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court observed and held :
 

“Having heard the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the parties at length and considering the material on record, we are of the opinion that the criminal proceedings initiated by Respondent No. 1-original complainant is nothing but an abuse of the process of law for settling a civil dispute.”

 

“ Even considering the nature of allegations in the complaint, we are of the firm opinion that no case is made out for taking cognizance of the offence Under Section 420/34 Indian Penal Code. The case involves a civil dispute and for settling a civil dispute, the criminal complaint has been filed, which is nothing but an abuse of the process of law.”

 

8. The Hon'ble Supreme Court in Criminal Appeal No. 56  of  2020 [ K. Jagdish vs. Uday  Kumar G.S.), decided on the 10th January 2020, observed and held:

"It is thus well settled that in certain cases the very same set of facts may give rise to remedies in civil as well as in criminal proceedings and even if a civil remedy is availed by a party, he is not precluded from setting in motion the proceedings in criminal law."

" In  the  light  of  the  principles  as  mentioned  hereinabove,  we  have  no hesitation  in  concluding  that  the  High  Court  erred  in  quashing  the  criminal proceedings .  We,  therefore,  allow  this  appeal,  set  aside  the  decision  rendered  by the  High  Court  and  direct  that that  criminal  proceedings  shall  be  taken  to  logical conclusion in accordance  with law."

 

9.  In this connection , a very recent decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Criminal Appeal No.  168  of 2020 (Govind  Prasad Kejriwal  vs. State of Bihar), decided on 31st. January 2020, is also relevant in view of which a Magistrate enquiring under 202 of the CrPC is required to see whether even a prima facie case of commission of an offence is made out or not and whether  criminal proceedings initiated is abuse of process of law and / or whether the  dispute is of civil nature. I quote below the observation of the Apex Court:
 

" It cannot be disputed that while  holding  the inquiry  under  Section  202  Cr.P.C.  the  Magistrate is  required  to  take  a  broad  view  and  a  prima  facie  case.    However, even   while   conducting/holding   an  inquiry   under   Section  202 Cr.P.C.,  the Magistrate  is required to  consider  whether  even  a  prima facie  case  is  made  out  or  not and whether  the  criminal  proceedings initiated  are  an  abuse  of  process  of  law  or  the  Court  or  not  and/or whether  the  dispute is  purely  of  a  civil  nature  or  not  and/or whether  the  civil  dispute  is  tried  to  be  given  a  colour  of  criminal dispute  or  not."