Date of Judgement:
26 October 2021
Justice M R Shah
Justice Aniruddha Bose
Appellant – Shantaben Bhurabhai Bhuriya
Respondent – Anand Athabhai Chaudhari
Amendment to Section 14 of the Act should be viewed with the objective of the amendment. An entire criminal proceeding cannot be invalidated merely on the grounds that cognizance was taken by the magistrate and not directly by the special court prescribed under the Act.
- Section 14 of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 – Special Court and Exclusive Special Court.
- Section 193 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 - Except as otherwise expressly provided by this Code or by any other law for the time being in force, no Court of Session shall take cognizance of any offence as a Court of original jurisdiction unless the case has been committed to it by a Magistrate under this Code.
- Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 – Prosecution of Judges and Public Servants.
- Section 460(e) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 - Irregularities which do not vitiate proceedings.
- The case of the appellant-complainant is that the village were the appellant resided was frequently looted by thieves. The police were called and the villagers were unhappy about the police. Subsequently, the accused police persons came at around 10:30 PM and beat up the complainant seating outside her house and abused her caste and gave death threats and ransacked her house. It was further stated that she tried lodge an FIR but was unable to do so and hence lodged it before the Magistrate.
- The Magistrate directed for conducting investigation regarding the complaint. The further investigation ordered revealed that there were evidences to show prima facie alleged offence. The Magistrate accordingly took cognizance of the offences by issuing process.
- Feeling aggrieved by the order of the Magistrate, the respondents herein filed a Special Criminal Application before the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution read with Section 482 of CrPC for quashing the FIR.
- The main contention was that the Magistrate cannot take cognizance of the offences under the Atrocities Act as only special courts can do it. It was also contended that there was delay in filing the FIR and the reason for the same has not been explained. It was also submitted that during the alleged incident the police officer were conducting their official duties, therefore before initiating any proceedings sanction is required as prescribed under Section 197 of CrPC. In absence of the same, no proceedings should have continued.
- The counsel for the appellant before the High Court contended that the prescribed Special Court has power only for trial and it cannot take cognizance directly.
- The High Court allowing the application quashed the FIR and set aside the order passed by the Magistrate issuing summons. Feeling aggrieved by the order of the High Court, this appeal was preferred.
- The appellant before this court contended that the High Court had misinterpreted Section 14 of the Atrocities Act. It was also argued that the High Court had not examined the relevant facts regarding the delay of filing the FIR. The appellant had tried to file an FIR but the accused people were the police officers themselves. The appellant prayed for setting aside the order of the High Court.
- Whether due to the fact that cognizance was taken by the Magistrate and thereafter the case was committed to the Special Court, vitiated the entire criminal proceedings considering the second proviso to Section 14 of the Atrocities Act?
- This court held that the objective of second proviso to Section 14 of the Atrocities Act was to reduce the delay in proceedings by committing of case by the Magistrate to the Special Court. The second proviso was inserted so that the Special Court can directly take cognizance of the issue so that consumption of time can be reduced. Hence, the objective for providing speedy trial for disputes under the Atrocities Act.
- Considering the aim of the section, the court held that it cannot be said that such proviso takes away the jurisdiction of the Magistrate to take cognizance of the case. To corroborate this, the court observed Section 14 of the Act and held that the proviso to the section deliberately has not included the word “only”. If the aim of the legislators was to take away the jurisdiction of the Magistrate, it would have been that the special court constituted under this Act will only have the power to take cognisance of offence under the Act.
- Regarding the observation of the court that there was substantive delay for filing the FIR, this court held that the High Court has erred in not considering the case of the appellant. It has been showing that the appellant tried to lodge an FIR but was unable to do so as the accused were the police themselves.
- Even otherwise, for quashing an FIR under Section 482 of CrPC, the dispute of delay should be determined in a trial. Hence, the entire criminal proceedings cannot be quashed by the High Court.
- The court observing the contention of the respondent before the High Court that no proceedings shall be initiated without sanction as prescribed under Section 197 of CrPC, held that the police officers, whether they were in duty is questionable while happening of the alleged incident, as they had reached the home of the complainant during nightly hours to harass her. However, the High Court’s order for the entire criminal proceedings to be quashed is not justifiable as it could have ordered to take the required sanction before taking the proceedings further.
- After making the above observation, this court allowed the appeal and set aside the order of the High Court.
Section 482 of CrPC is established to prevent the abuse of process of the court. The High Court should take into consideration the pleadings of the party and relevant facts and circumstance before quashing an FIR and an entire criminal proceeding. The second proviso to Section 14 of the Act should be interpreted taking into consideration the objective of such enactments. The amendment to the section was made to provide speedy trial. Hence, the Magistrate taking cognizance of an offence under this Act and committing it to a special court would not ipso facto vitiate and make the proceeding liable to be quashed.
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1. Whether a Special Court as constituted under the Atrocities Act is a Court of Sessions?
2. If any Magistrate not empowered by law to issue process under Section 187, for the apprehension of a person within his local jurisdiction who has committed an offence outside the limits of such jurisdiction erroneously issues process in good faith, whether his proceedings can be set aside merely on the ground of him not being so empowered to do so?