The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India recently on 07/05/2021 in Sanjay Kumar Rai v State of Uttar Pradesh and Another1 reiterated that orders framing charge or refusing discharge are neither interlocutory nor final in nature and are therefore not affected by the bar of Section 397(2) of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 ("CrPC").
Section 397(2) of CrPC bars the power of the Courts to exercise revision in relation to any interlocutory order passed in any appeal, inquiry, trial or other proceeding. The term interlocutory order has not been defined in the CrPC. The term interlocutory order has been used in a very restrictive sense and not in any broad or artistic sense.2 It may be defined as orders which are purely interim or temporary which do not decide or touch upon the important rights or the liabilities of the parties.
A criminal appeal was filed challenging the order passed by the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad wherein the criminal revision against the order refusing to discharge the appellant has been dismissed.
Charge sheet came to be filed against the appellant/accused for offences under Section 504 and Section 506 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 ("IPC") based on the statement of the complainant and statements of two witnesses on affidavit. However, the version of the appellant was never taken on record to consider his side of the story. The Learned Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate took cognizance of the offence on 08/11/2012.
The appellant filed an application for discharge under Section 239 of CrPC on the grounds that he has been falsely implicated; the allegations of telephonic threats do not constitute an offence under Section 504 and 506 of the IPC and that the investigation was not proper. The Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate ('CJM') rejected the application of the appellant inter alia on the ground that there was sufficient evidence on record to frame charge against the accused amongst others.
The appellant being aggrieved by the rejection order filed a Criminal Revision Petition before the High Court seeking reversal of CJM's Order. The High Court relying on the decision of Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Private Limited versus Central Bureau of Investigation3 observed that order of discharge can be interfered only in the rarest of rare cases only to correct the patent error of jurisdiction. The High Court held that since there was no patent error of jurisdiction, the revision petition was dismissed.
The Apex Court distinguished the Asian Resurfacing Case which was relied by the High Court limiting the scope of revision to jurisdictional errors on the ground that in the said case challenge was to the charge framed under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 ("POCA") and the said judgment itself holds that not only POCA was a special statue but also contains a special bar for exercise of revisional jurisdiction under Section 19. Further, the court also held that in Asian Resurfacing Case this court relied on Madhu Limaye v State of Maharashtra4 wherein it was observed as follows:
"27. Thus, even though in dealing with different situations, seemingly conflicting observations may have been made while holding that the order framing charge was interlocutory order and was not liable to be interfered with under Section 397(2) or even under Section 482 CrPC, the principle laid down in Madhu Limaye [Madhu Limaye v. State of Maharashtra, (1977) 4 SCC 551 : 1978 SCC (Cri) 10] still holds the field. Order framing charge may not be held to be purely an interlocutory order and can in a given situation be interfered with under Section 397(2) CrPC or 482 CrPC or Article 227 of the Constitution which is a constitutional provision but the power of the High Court to interfere with an order framing charge and to grant stay is to be exercised only in an exceptional situation."
The Court further relying on Madhu Limaye Case held that orders framing charges or refusing discharge are neither interlocutory nor final in nature and are therefore not affected by the bar of Section 397(2) of CrPC the court further acknowledged that High Courts have the inherent jurisdiction to prevent abuse of process of court or to secure the ends of justice.
Supreme Court held that the discretion have to be invoked carefully and judiciously however, a complete hands off approach is not recommended. Courts have to interfere in exceptional cases in which there is a likelihood of serious prejudice on the rights of the citizen like when the contents of a complaint or the material on record is a brazen attempt to persecute an innocent person, in which it becomes imperative on the courts to prevent the abuse of process of court.
The Court relied on Union of India v Prafulla Kumar Samal5 and held that while deciding the discharge applications trial courts are not supposed to merely act as post office and has to consider the broad possibilities, total effect of evidence and documents produced and the basic infirmities on record and have to examine whether there is sufficient material on record to try the suspect.
The Apex Court while observing that the High Court have committed jurisdictional error by not deciding the case on merit and overlooking the fact that discharge is a valuable right provided to the accused, remanded the case back to the High Court to decide the matter in accordance with the settled position of law.
The Supreme Court reiterated that order framing charges or refusing discharge are neither interlocutory nor final in nature and thus the bar under Section 397(2) would not apply. The High Courts also have the inherent powers to prevent the abuse of process of court or to secure the ends of justice in cases where there has been likelihood of prejudice to the rights of the citizen and in cases where there is brazen attempt to falsely implicate an innocent person.
Further, Supreme Court also cautioned the Trial Courts to not to act as mere post offices while dealing with discharge applications and to examine whether there exist sufficient grounds to try the suspect.
1. Criminal Appeal No 472 of 2021.
2. Amar Nath and others v State of Haryana and Another (1977) 4 SCC 137
3. (2018) 16 SCC 299.
4. 1977) 4 SCC 551.
5. (1979) 3 SCC 4
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