Home / News / India /  Supreme Court tightens noose for rich offenders ‘buying off’ complainants
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Heinous crimes that are not private in character and have a significant negative effect on society cannot be overturned based on an agreement between the perpetrator and the complainant or the victim, according to the Supreme Court.

According to the top court, decisions to dismiss FIRs or complaints involving grave and criminal offences only after reaching an understanding with the complainant would create a "dangerous precedent" where complaints would be filed merely to obtain money from the accused.

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The SC set aside decisions made by the Gujarat High Court, including one that nullified a FIR filed in March 2020 for an alleged crime of aiding suicide.

"Furthermore, financially strong offenders would go scot-free, even in cases of grave and serious offences such as murder, rape, bride-burning, etc. by buying off informants/complainants and settling with them," a bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and V Ramasubramanian said in its judgement.

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Referring to earlier rulings by the Supreme Court, the bench stated that the high court must exercise caution and give due consideration to the nature and seriousness of the offence before using its authority under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to dismiss a FIR, criminal complaint, or criminal proceedings.

"Heinous or serious crimes, which are not private in nature and have a serious impact on society cannot be quashed on the basis of a compromise between the offender and the complainant and/or the victim," it said.

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The apex court observed that crimes like murder, rape, burglary, dacoity, and even abetment to commit suicide are neither private nor civil and such crimes are against society.

"In no circumstances can prosecution be quashed on compromise, when the offence is serious and grave and falls within the ambit of crime against society," it said.

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Sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) such as sections 306, 498-A, and 304-B, which were included as a deterrent with a specific social purpose, would become meaningless, the bench argued, if orders to quash FIRs or complaints relating to grave and serious offences were only based on an agreement with the complainant.

Section 498-A of the IPC deals with the crime of a spouse or relative of a husband subjecting a woman to cruelty, while Section 306 of the IPC deals with aiding suicide. The IPC's Section 304-B addresses the crime of dowry death.

According to the supreme court, the only issue on appeal is whether the accused's motions under section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code and a FIR under section 306 of the IPC could have been dismissed as a result of an agreement between the complainant and the accused identified in the FIR.

The bench observed that an FIR under section 306 of the IPC cannot even be quashed based on any financial settlement with the informant, surviving spouse, parents, children, guardians, caregivers, or anyone else.

It noted that the high court had erred in declining the prayer of the appellant for recalling its order, which was passed without hearing the wife of the deceased only because the original informant or complainant, a cousin brother, and an employee of the deceased had been heard.

"Hearing a cousin-cum-employee of the deceased cannot and does not dispense with the requirement to give the wife of the deceased a hearing," it said.

The bench noted that the wife of the deceased would have greater interest than cousins and employees in prosecuting accused persons charged with the offence of abetting the suicide of her husband.

It said the inherent power of the high court under section 482 of the CrPC to interfere with criminal proceedings is wide and such power has to be exercised with circumspection, in exceptional cases.

The top court noted that in exceptional cases, the high court might exercise its inherent powers under section 482 of the CrPC to quash criminal proceedings to prevent abuse of the process of the court.

It said offence under section 306 of the IPC of abetment to commit suicide is a grave and non-compoundable offence.

It said in criminal jurisprudence, the position of the complainant is only that of the informant and once an FIR or criminal complaint is lodged and a criminal case is started by the State, it becomes a matter between the state and the accused.

"The State has a duty to ensure that law and order are maintained in society. It is for the state to prosecute offenders," the bench said.

"In our considered opinion, the criminal proceeding cannot be nipped in the bud by the exercise of jurisdiction under section 482 of the CrPC only because there is a settlement, in this case, a monetary settlement, between the accused and the complainant and other relatives of the deceased to the exclusion of the hapless widow of the deceased," it said.

(With PTI inputs)

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