24 Oct 2009

High Court not to interfere in Police Investigation: Supreme Court

In a restatement of law, having far-reaching implications, the Supreme Court has recently declared that High Courts, even in exercise of their wide powers, cannot interfere with the investigations carried out by the Police. Quoting earlier decisions as far as back from 1945, the Supreme Court noted that;
It is well settled and this Court time and again, reiterated that the police authorities have the statutory right and duty to investigate into a cognizable offence under the scheme of Code of Criminal Procedure (for short ‘the Code’). This Court, on more than one occasion, decried uncalled for interference by the Courts into domain of investigation of crimes by police in discharge of their statutory functions. The principle has been succinctly stated way back in Emperor v. Khwaja Nazir Ahmad and the same has been repeatedly quoted with respect and approval. The Privy Council observed that “just as it is essential that every one accused of a crime should have free access to a Court of justice so that he may be duly, acquitted if found not guilty of the offence with which he is charged, so it is of the utmost importance that the judiciary should not interfere with the police in matters which are within their province and into which the law imposes upon them the duty of enquiry”.
These observations came in the background of an order passed by the High Court of Madras in a petition filed before it. The case related to termination of a MOU entered into by a party with another on the ground that the latter was unable to perform is part of the agreement.Upon such termination the other party filed an FIR before the police authorities alleging commission of various offences relating to cheating against the first party. Within a week of filing the FIR, the same party also filed a petition in the High Court against the Police authorities for not taking proper action/investigation in the case. The record of the decision of the Supreme Court notes that "the High Court, within a period of one month from the date of filing of the petition, finally disposed of the same observing that 'it is obligatory on the part of the respondent police to conduct investigation in accordance with law, including recording of statements from witnesses, arrest, seizure of property, perusal of various documents, filing of charge sheet. It is also needless to state that if any account is available with the accused persons, or any amount is in their possession and any account is maintained in Nationalized Bank, it is obligatory on the part of the respondent police to take all necessary steps to safeguard the interest of the aggrieved persons in this case.' The Court accordingly directed the police to expedite and complete the investigation within six months from the date of receipt of a copy of the order."

In appeal against this decision of the High Court, the first party argued that the second party "virtually sought to recover the amounts from the appellants in a proceeding filed under Section 482 of the Code which is impermissible in law. It was further submitted that the High Court exceeded its jurisdiction in issuing directions to the investigating agency to act in a particular manner which is unsustainable."

Commenting on the wake of the consequences of the order of the High Court, the Supreme Court further went on to observe,
It is too fairly well settled and needs no restatement at our hands that the saving of the High Court’s inherent power is designed to achieve a salutary public purpose which is that a Court proceeding ought not to be permitted to degenerate into a weapon of harassment or persecution. It is unfortunate that it is the exercise of the inherent power by the High Court in this case that had ultimately resulted in harassment of the appellants as is evident from the subsequent events. Pursuant to the impugned order, the investigating authorities have approached the appellant ... took him into custody and exhibited him on television channel. The police have demanded to pay an amount of Rs.2,28,00,000/- and threatened that he would be arrested if he fails to comply with their demand. Accordingly, the appellants have paid Rs.10 lakhs in cash in the police station itself and issued a cheque for an amount of Rs.2.18 crores. ... The police offered explanation stating that the matter was settled voluntarily between the parties and therefore, the accused were not arrested and remanded to custody. It is difficult to buy this idea that there was a settlement between the parties in the police station. It is not difficult to discern as to how and under what circumstances the appellants may have agreed to pay the amounts and also issued a cheque. It is not known as to how and under what authority the police could intervene and settle any disputes between the parties. It is needless to observe that the police have no such authority or duty of settling disputes. It is the statutory obligation and duty of the police to investigate into the crime and the Courts normally ought not to interfere and guide the investigating agency as to in what manner the investigation has to proceed.
To avoid the travesty of justice, the Supreme Court held nothing back to set aside the order of the High Court. It declared, 
Tested in the light of the principles aforesaid, the impugned order, in our considered opinion, must be held to be an order passed overstepping the limits of judicial interference. It was observed by this Court on more than one occasion, that even in Public Interest Litigation proceedings, appropriate directions may be issued and the purpose in issuing such directions is essentially to ensure performance of statutory duty by the investigating agency. The duty of the Court in such proceedings is to ensure that the agencies do their duties in compliance with law. The inherent power of the High Court is saved to interfere with the proceedings pending before a Criminal Court if such interference is required to secure the ends of justice or where the continuance of the proceedings before a Court amounts to abuse of the process of Court. Such a power under Section 482 of the Code is always available to the High Court in relation to a matter pending before a criminal Court. 
... The High Court interfered with the investigation of crime which is within the exclusive domain of the police by virtually directing the police to investigate the case from a particular angle and take certain steps which the police depending upon the evidence collected and host of other circumstances may or may not have attempted to take any such steps in its discretion. It is not necessary that every investigation should result in arrest, seizure of the property and ultimately in filing of the charge sheet. The police, in exercise of its statutory power coupled with duty, upon investigation of a case, may find that a case is made out requiring it to file charge sheet or may find that no case as such is made out. It needs no reiteration that the jurisdiction under Section 482 of the Code conferred on the High Court has to be exercised sparingly, carefully and with caution only where such exercise is justified by the test laid down in the provision itself.
... The High Court in the present case, without realizing the consequences, issued directions in a casual and mechanical manner without hearing the appellants. The impugned order is a nullity and liable to be set aside only on that score.
With these scathing observations, the Supreme Court set aside the order of the High Court and directed the police to carry out the investigations independently and without favour. It is hoped that this recent decision would deter vexatious petitions being filed in courts for the litigants would be aware that the higher courts would not tolerate travesty of justice. 

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