A lean compromise is better than a fat lawsuit – George Herbert
Considering the latest pattern in the judgments of honorable Supreme Court and the High Courts, compromise in criminal cases has become a usual source of action. Amicable settlement is not only taking place in domestic disputes but also in serious offenses like attempt to murder, cases related to Schedule cast/Schedule tribe Act, woman harassment cases etc.
In some of the cases, the Supreme Court has permitted compounding of offenses even at the appellate stage, after the accused are convicted by trial court.
A case in point is namely Ram Gopal and Ans v. The State of Madhya Pradesh (Criminal Appeal No. 1489 dated 29.09.2021) wherein, the Supreme Court was confronted with an identical question. Answering in the affirmative, it has been clarified that the jurisdiction of a court under section 320 CRPC cannot be construed as a proscription against the invocation of inherited powers vested in court under Article 142 of the constitution nor on the powers of the High Court under section 482 of CRPC.
It was further held that the touchstone for exercising the extraordinary powers under article 142 or section 482 Cr.P.C, would be to do complete justice. Therefore, this court or the High Courts as the case may be, after having given due regard to the nature of the offense and the fact that the victim or complainant has willingly entered into a settlement or compromise, can quash the proceedings in exercise of their respective constitutional or inherited powers.
The Supreme Court further postulated that criminal proceedings involving non-heinous offenses or offenses which are predominantly of a private nature, could be set aside at any stage of the proceedings, including the appellate level.
Similarly, Supreme Court vide its order dated 25.10.2021 in criminal appeals number 1393 Of 2011 Ramawatar v. state of Madhya Pradesh found it appropriate to invoke the powers under article 142 of the constitution and quash the criminal proceedings under the schedule casts and the scheduled tribes, 1989 to do complete justice where the matter has been settled between the parties, and complainant had filed an application for compromise.
In the above set case, the conviction was confirmed by the trial and High Court under section 3 (1) (x) of the SC/ST Act read with Section 34 of the IPC. However, the complainant compromised the matter and thus both the parties moved to the Supreme Court for quashing of the case.
In view of this settled proposition of law, and the decision of the division bench of court in Ram Gopal case, the Supreme Court held that the powers of the court under Article 142 can be invoked to quash a criminal proceeding on the basis of a voluntary compromise and genuine settlements.
The Supreme Court further held that the courts have to be mindful of the fact that the Act has been enacted keeping in view constitutional safeguards provided in Articles 15, 17 and 21 of the constitution with an objective of protecting the members of these vulnerable communities.
But, on the other hand, when considering a prayer for quashing on the basis of a compromise, if the court is satisfied that the underlying objective of the act would not be diminished even if the felony goes unpunished, the mere fact that the offense is covered under a special statue, would not refrain Supreme Court or any High Court from exercising their respective powers under Article 142 of the constitution or section 482 CRPC.
Thus, handing out punishment is not the sole form of delivering justice.
The extra ordinary power under section 482 CRPC and Article 142 of the constitution can be invoked beyond the metes and bounds of section 320 CRPC where compounding of only few mentioned sections of IPC is permissible..