In the judgment of the case- Krishna Lal Chawla & Others v. State of U.P. & Another, delivered on March 8, 2021, A Supreme Court division bench consisting of Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar and Justice R. Subhash Reddy, has struck a note of caution by stating that frivolous litigation should not become the order of the day in India. From misusing the Public Interest Litigation jurisdiction of the Indian courts to abusing the criminal procedure for harassing their adversaries, the justice delivery system should not be used as a tool to fulfill personal vendetta.
The Indian judiciary has taken cognizance of this issue. In the year 2014, the Supreme Court referred to the plight of a litigant caught in the cobweb of frivolous proceedings in the judgment of the case- Subrata Roy Sahara v. Union of India- (2014) 8 SCC 470, as under :
'191..... One needs to keep in mind, that in the process of litigation, there is an innocent sufferer on the other side, of every irresponsible and senseless claim. He suffers long drawn anxious periods of nervousness and restlessness, whilst the litigation is pending without any fault on his part. He pays for the litigation from out of his savings (or out of his borrowings), worrying that the other side may trick him into defeat, for no fault of his. He spends invaluable time briefing counsel and preparing them for his claim. Time which he should have spent at work, or with his family, is lost for no fault of his....”
While the Court’s ruling pertained to civil proceedings, these observations rings true for the criminal justice machinery as well. The SC has noted with regret, that 7 years hence, and there has still been no reduction in such plight. A falsely accused person not only suffers monetary damages but is exposed to disrepute and stigma from society. While running from pillar to post to find a lawyer to represent his case and arranging finances to defend himself before the court of law, he loses a part of himself.
The SC has stated further, that the trial courts and Magistrates have an important role in curbing this injustice. They are the first line of defence for both the integrity of the criminal justice system, and the harassed and distraught litigant. The SC is of the considered opinion that the trial courts have the power to not merely decide on acquittal or conviction of the accused person after the trial, but also the duty to nip frivolous litigations in the bud, even before they reach the stage of trial by discharging the accused in fit cases.
This would not only save judicial time that comes at the cost of money, but would also protect the right to liberty that every person is entitled to under Article 21 of the Constitution. In this context, the trial Judges have as much, if not more, responsibility in safeguarding the fundamental rights of the citizens of India as the highest court of this land.
The present case, poses a typical example of frivolous litigants abusing court process to achieve their mischievous ends. In this case, the Magistrate was aware of the significant delay in the filing of private complaint by respondent-2 and of the material improvements from the earlier NCR No. 158/2012 which were made in the private complaint. It was incumbent on the Magistrate to examine any possibility of abuse of process of the court, make further inquiries and dismiss the frivolous complaint at the outset after judicial application of mind. However, this was not done- the Magistrate issued process against the appellants by order April 4, 2019, and this controversy has now reached this Court for disposal.
It is a settled cannon of law that this Court has inherent powers to prevent the abuse of its own process, that this Court shall not suffer a litigant utilizing the institution of justice for unjust means. Thus, it would be only proper for this Court to deny any relief to a litigant, who attempts to pollute the stream of justice by coming to it with his unclean hands. Similarly, a litigant pursuing frivolous and vexatious proceedings cannot claim unlimited right upon court time and public money to achieve his ends.
The SC’s inherent powers under Article142ofvtheConstitutionto do ’complete justice’ empowers the Court to give preference to equity and a justice-oriented approach over the strict rigors of procedural law (State of Punjab v. Rafiq Masih (Whitewasher)- (2014) 8 SCC 883. The SC has used this inherent power to quash criminal proceedings where the proceedings are instituted with an oblique motive, or on manufactured evidence [Monica Kumar (Dr) & Another v. State of Uttar Pradesh- (2008)8 SCC 781].
Other decisions have held that inherent powers of High Courts provided in section 482 CrPC may be utilized to quash criminal proceedings instituted after great delay or with vengeful or mala fide motives – Sirajul & Others v. State of Uttar Pradesh-(2015) 9 SCC 201; State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal , AIR 1992 SC 604. Thus, it is the constitutional duty of the SC to quash criminal proceedings which were instituted by misleading the Court and abusing its process of law, only with a view to harass the hapless litigants.
In the SC’s quest for complete justice, and to bring peace between the parties, who are fighting various litigations since the year 2006 the SC exercises its powers under Article 142 to quash all the litigations between the parties arising out of the one and same incident in this case.
In conclusion, the SC has set aside the impugned judgment delivered by the Allahabad High Court on September28, 2020 in the Misc. Petition 2561/2020.The Court has quashed the proceedings in Complaint case 2943/2018including the order of summons against the appellants of April 4, 2019. Further, the SC has also quashed proceedings pursuant to NCR 158/2012 of August 5, 2012 filed by respondent-2, in order to foreclose further frivolous litigation.
The SC has also quashed 'any other” criminal cases between the parties initiated by them in relation to the incident o August 5, 2012 including the criminal proceedings arising from NCR 160/2012 instituted by the appellants, in exercise of its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, in the interest of giving quietus to these criminal proceedings arising out of a petty incident 9 years ago. The SC has allowed the appeal in these terms.