Author: Krishna Agarwal


Introduction

No legislative enactment dealing with procedure can provide for all cases that may possibly arise. Courts, therefore, have inherent powers apart from express provisions of law which are necessary for proper discharge of functions and duties imposed upon them by law. That is the doctrine which finds expression in the section which merely recognizes and preserves inherent powers of the High Courts. All courts, whether civil or criminal possess, in the absence of any express provision, as inherent in their constitution, all such powers as are necessary to do the right and to undo a wrong in course of administration of justice on the principle quando lex aliquid alicui concedit, concedere videtur et id sine quo res ipsae esse non potest i.e. when the law gives a person anything it gives him that without which it cannot exist.[1]

The inherent powers to the High Courts have been provided under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. The section reads as: “Saving of inherent powers of High Court: Nothing in this Code shall be deemed to limit or affect the inherent powers of the High Court to make such orders as may be necessary to give effect to any order under this Code, or to prevent abuse of the process of any Court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice.” The language of this section is exactly the same as the language of Section 561-A in the 1898 Code.[2] The inherent powers are partly judicial and partly administrative. They are necessarily judicial when they are exercisable with respect to a judicial order and for securing the ends of justice.

This Section does not intend to confer any new powers to the High Courts; it only saves such inherent powers that the courts possessed before the enactment of the code. A brief reading of the section envisages three circumstances in which such inherent jurisdiction of the court may be invoked:

  • to give effect to an order under the code,
  • to prevent abuse of powers and process of court,
  • to otherwise secure the ends of justice.[3]

POWERS

To Give Effect To An Order

The first class of order which the section envisages are orders that are necessary to give effect to. It is an obvious proposition that when a Court has authority to make an order, it must also have the authority and the power to execute such order and make it come into effect. If an order can lawfully be made, it must be carried out, otherwise it is useless to make such an order. The power to enforce obedience to the mandates of the court necessarily springs from the very existence of the authority to issue the mandates and if that power is not expressly given by the statute, it must be deemed to be inherent in the court.[4]

To Prevent Abuse Of The Process Of Any Court

The fundamental principle behind establishing the courts is to provide justice to the citizens and this section empowers the courts to take a step further for the same. There may arise circumstances where no procedural law is available for removing injustice that may have been caused by any process of law and the Section 482 might act as an instrument for the courts to remove such abuse of the process of the courts by the litigants. The Supreme Court on the same lines held that “The authority of the court exists for the advancement of justice and if any attempt is made to abuse that authority so as to produce injustice, the court has power to prevent such abuse. It would be an abuse of process of the court to allow any action which would result in injustice and prevent promotion of justice.”[5] The word “process” is interpreted in general terms and includes anything done by the Court.[6]

The inherent power of the court is to prevent any injustice from taking place before it takes place. In the words of the justice S.K. Ray in the case of Bhanja Naik v Somanath Mohanty, “the jurisdiction under this head is exercised to prevent, and not to cure, abuse of the process of the court in respect of any matter before it so long as the High Court retains exercisable appellate or revisional jurisdiction over it, and so long as the matter has not been fully and finally disposed by exhausting all remedial forums available under the code.[7]

To Secure Ends of Justice

The Orissa High Court while interpreting the term ‘ends of justice’ held that “When one speaks of ends of justice, the expression is not used to comprise within it any vague or nebulous concept of justice, nor even the justice in the philosophical sense, but justice according to law, statute law and the common law.”[8]

The basic reason for enactment of this section is to emphasize the fact that the High Court has the widest jurisdiction to pass orders to secure the ends of justice, it must give the powers to the High Court to entertain applications which are not contemplated by the code. Therefore, if the High Court feels that the ends of the justice require that an order should be made in an application, although the application is not contemplated by the Code, the High Court will entertain the application and make the necessary orders to secure the ends of justice.[9]

The important point to note here is that, the High Courts, under Section 482 have not been empowered to decide whether the lower courts have decided a point of law rightly or wrongly; the jurisdiction to do so, is of an appellate or a revision court. Under this section an application cannot lie on the ground that the Court has decided a point of law incorrectly and resulted in gross injustice to the applicant. Thus, though the powers in this section are given without any boundaries so as to fulfil the elementary principles of justice, the Court exercising such powers must keep in mind that use of the inherent powers shall be done with due caution and only when it becomes the lender of the last resort for providing justice to the sufferer.

WHEN CAN INHERENT POWERS BE USED

In the backdrop of the interpreting of the various relevant provisions of the Code under Chapter XIV and of the principles of law enunciated by the Courts in a series of decisions relating to the exercise of the extraordinary power under Article 226 or the inherent powers under Section 482 of the Code, The Supreme Court in the landmark judgment of State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal[10] gave the following categories of cases by way of illustration wherein such power could be exercised either to prevent abuse of the process of any court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice, holding that though it may not be possible to lay down any precise, clearly defined and sufficiently channelized and inflexible guidelines or rigid formulae and to give an exhaustive list of myriad kinds of cases wherein such power should be exercised.

  • Where the allegations made in the first information report or the complaint, even if they are taken at their face value and accepted in their entirety do not prima facie constitute any offence or make out a case against the accused.
  • Where the allegations in the first information report and other materials, if any, accompanying the FIR do not disclose a cognizable offence, justifying an investigation by police officers under Section 156(1) of the Code except under an order of a Magistrate within the purview of Section 155(2) of the Code.
  • Where the uncontroverted allegations made in the FIR or complaint and the evidence collected in support of the same do not disclose the commission of any offence and make out a case against the accused.
  • Where, the allegations in the FIR do not constitute a cognizable offence but constitute only a non-cognizable offence, no investigation is permitted by a police officer without an order of a Magistrate as contemplated under Section 155(2) of the Code.
  • Where the allegations made in the FIR or complaint are so absurd and inherently improbable on the basis of which no prudent person can ever reach a just conclusion that there is sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused.
  • Where there is an express legal bar engrafted in any of the provisions of the Code or the concerned Act (under which a criminal proceeding is instituted) to the institution and continuance of the proceedings and/or where there is a specific provision in the Code or the concerned Act, providing efficacious redress for the grievance of the aggrieved party.
  • Where a criminal proceeding is manifestly attended with mala fide and/or where the proceeding is maliciously instituted with an ulterior motive for wreaking vengeance on the accused and with a view to spite him due to private and personal grudge.

In the recent judgment, in the case of Parbatbhai Aahir and Ors. vs. State of Gujarat and Ors.[11] before the Apex Court, the Court while analyzing the precedents on the subject, summarized the broad principles in the following propositions:

  • Section 482 preserves the inherent powers of the High Court to prevent an abuse of the process of any court or to secure the ends of justice. The provision does not confer new powers. It only recognises and preserves powers which inhere in the High Court;
  • The invocation of the jurisdiction of the High Court to quash a First Information Report or a criminal proceeding on the ground that a settlement has been arrived at between the offender and the victim is not the same as the invocation of jurisdiction for the purpose of compounding an offence. While compounding an offence, the power of the court is governed by the provisions of Section 320 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The power to quash Under Section 482 is attracted even if the offence is non-compoundable.
  • In forming an opinion whether a criminal proceeding or complaint should be quashed in exercise of its jurisdiction Under Section 482, the High Court must evaluate whether the ends of justice would justify the exercise of the inherent power;
  • While the inherent power of the High Court has a wide ambit and plenitude it has to be exercised; (i) to secure the ends of justice or (ii) to prevent an abuse of the process of any court;
  • The decision as to whether a complaint or First Information Report should be quashed on the ground that the offender and victim have settled the dispute, revolves ultimately on the facts and circumstances of each case and no exhaustive elaboration of principles can be formulated;
  • In the exercise of the power Under Section 482 and while dealing with a plea that the dispute has been settled, the High Court must have due regard to the nature and gravity of the offence. Heinous and serious offences involving mental depravity or offences such as murder, rape and dacoity cannot appropriately be quashed though the victim or the family of the victim have settled the dispute. Such offences are, truly speaking, not private in nature but have a serious impact upon society. The decision to continue with the trial in such cases is founded on the overriding element of public interest in punishing persons for serious offences;
  • As distinguished from serious offences, there may be criminal cases which have an overwhelming or predominant element of a civil dispute. They stand on a distinct footing in so far as the exercise of the inherent power to quash is concerned;
  • Criminal cases involving offences which arise from commercial, financial, mercantile, partnership or similar transactions with an essentially civil flavour may in appropriate situations fall for quashing where parties have settled the dispute;
  • In such a case, the High Court may quash the criminal proceeding if in view of the compromise between the disputants, the possibility of a conviction is remote and the continuation of a criminal proceeding would cause oppression and prejudice; and
  • There is yet an exception to the principle set out in propositions (viii) and (ix) above. Economic offences involving the financial and economic well-being of the state have implications which lie beyond the domain of a mere dispute between private disputants. The High Court would be justified in declining to quash where the offender is involved in an activity akin to a financial or economic fraud or misdemeanour. The consequences of the act complained of upon the financial or economic system will weigh in the balance.

LIMITATIONS

The courts have tried to give a list of circumstances where High Court must make use of the inherent powers, however such list is not exhaustive, also, it is almost impossible to define the limitations, since these powers with High Court becomes the basis of granting justice to the sufferer. Thus, the courts have devised various methods that shall be adhered to before using the inherent powers.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the recent judgment in the case of Girish Kumar Suneja v CBI[12] opined that: The following principles may be noticed in relation to the exercise of the inherent power of the High Court which have been followed ordinarily and generally, almost invariably, barring a few exceptions:

  • That the power is not to be resorted to if there is a specific provision in the Code for the redress of the grievance of the aggrieved party;
  • That it should be exercised very sparingly to prevent abuse of process of any Court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice;
  • That it should not be exercised as against the express bar of law engrafted in any other provision of the Code. 

In Prashant Bharti v State of NCT of Delhi[13], the Court prescribed the following steps to determine the veracity of a prayer for quashing, raised by an accused by invoking the power vested in the High Court under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure:

  • Step one, whether the material relied upon by the accused is sound, reasonable, and indubitable, i.e., the material is of sterling and impeccable quality?
  • Step two, whether the material relied upon by the accused, would rule out the assertions contained in the charges levelled against the accused, i.e., the material is sufficient to reject and overrule the factual assertions contained in the complaint, i.e., the material is such, as would persuade a reasonable person to dismiss and condemn the factual basis of the accusations as false.
  • Step three, whether the material relied upon by the accused, has not been refuted by the prosecution/complainant; and/or the material is such, that it cannot be justifiably refuted by the prosecution/complainant?
  • Step four, whether proceeding with the trial would result in an abuse of process of the court, and would not serve the ends of justice?

If the answer to all the steps is in the affirmative, judicial conscience of the High Court should persuade it to quash such criminal-proceedings, in exercise of power vested in it under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Such exercise of power, besides doing justice to the accused, would save precious court time, which would otherwise be wasted in holding such a trial (as well as, proceedings arising therefrom) specially when, it is clear that the same would not conclude in the conviction of the accused.

It shall also be noted that the powers given to the Courts under this section relates only to the jurisdiction of the criminal courts. Where an authority has simultaneous jurisdiction i.e. criminal as well as civil, only orders that are of criminal nature can be challenged. On the similar lines, the Allahabad High Court held that Under this section the High Courts can revise orders of the criminal courts only. It cannot revise orders passed by a Sub-divisional Officer as Assistant Collector and not as Magistrate.[14]

The courts have even observed that arbitrary use of such powers may even lead to misuse of power rather than securing the ends of the justice, and in the same lines, the Apex Court in Jeffrey J. Diermeier v State of West Bengal[15] opined that It is neither possible nor desirable to lay down any inflexible rule which would govern the exercise of inherent jurisdiction of the court. Undoubtedly, the power possessed by the High Court under the said provision is very wide but it is not unlimited. It has to be exercised sparingly, carefully and cautiously, ex debito justitiae to do real and substantial justice for which alone the court exists. It needs little emphasis that the inherent jurisdiction does not confer an arbitrary power on the High Court to act according to whim or caprice. The power exists to prevent abuse of authority and not to produce injustice.

CONCLUSION

The basic objective behind establishing the judicial machinery is to provide justice to the people, and there may arise situations where either this machinery does not fulfil its objective or the powers of this machinery is abused. In either situation, there shall be a law, that can come into effect, so as to provide justice and prevent abuse, and inherent powers to the High Court shall only be used into that effect. Since the section confers wide powers and does not deliver an exhaustive list of situations where such powers can be used, the Courts have tried and prescribed such situations as well as limitations that have to be taken into consideration while using such powers. Ultimately, it is the court that decides whether such application shall be entertained or not and hence it is their duty to use such powers cautiously.


[1] State of Karnataka v M. Devendrappa and Another, (2002) 3 SCC 89

[2] Mangal Singh v Smt. Davindra Kaur, (1975) 1 All. L.R. 514.

[3] Inder Mohan Goswami and Another v State of Uttaranchal and Others, (2007) 12 SCC 1.

[4] Emperor v Sukhdev, AIR 1930 Lah 462.

[5] State of Karnataka v. M. Devendrappa and Anr., (2002) 3 SCC 89.

[6] Assistant Government Advocate v Upendra Nath Mukerji, AIR 1931 Pat 81.

[7] AIR 1969 Orissa 368.

[8] Basanta Kumar Baral & Others v State of Orissa & Others, 87 (1999) CLT 712.

[9] State of Bombay v Nilkanth Shripad Bhave, AIR 1954 Bom 65.

[10] State of Haryana v Bhajan Lal, 1992 Supp (1) SCC 335.

[11] (2017) 9 SCC 641.

[12] (2017) 14 SCC 809.

[13] (2013) 9 SCC 293.

[14] Emperor v Jharihag, AIR 1939 All 541.

[15] (2010) 6 SCC 243.


About the Author: Krishna is a 2015-20 Batch student at ILS Law College, Pune.


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