A Special Court constituted under the TNPID Act is not a Court of Magistrate. The Presiding Officer of the Special Court can only be a person of the cadre of a District and Sessions Judge, the bench said.
Clarifying that the Special Court constituted under the Tamil Nadu Protection of Interests of Depositors (in financial establishments) Act, 1997 is not a Magistrate’s court, the Madras High Court has held that an appeal against a conviction or acquittal by the Special Court under the TNPID Act will lie only to the high court, irrespective of the quantum of sentence imposed by it.
A division bench of Justice M Sathyanarayanan and Justice PN Prakash was answering the reference made to it by the single judge (Justice Shivakumar) who doubted the correctness of judgment by Justice S Nagamuthu in Antony vs. the State that an appeal from an order of conviction and sentence of less than seven years imposed by the TNPID Court would lie only to the Sessions Court and not to the high court.
Justice Nagamuthu had held that the Special Court constituted under the TNPID Act does not enjoy the powers of a Court of Sessions though it is presided over by a judge who is in the cadre of the District and Sessions judge and he exercises the original jurisdiction of only a magistrate.
The division bench observed that Section 29 CrPC bars a Chief Judicial Magistrate from sentencing a person for a term exceeding seven years and also bars a First Class Magistrate from sentencing a person for a term exceeding three years, whereas Section 5 of the TNPID Act prescribes maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment.
“If we were to agree with Nagamuthu J. that a Special Judge is a Magistrate, then, he will not be able to impose a sentence of imprisonment beyond three years and/or impose a fine exceeding Rs. 5,000. If we hold that a Special Judge has the power of a Chief Judicial Magistrate, then, he will not be able to impose a sentence of imprisonment exceeding seven years. Such an interpretation will result in Section 5 of the TNPID Act getting obfuscated,” the bench said.
It also observed that the words “without the accused being committed to it” employed in Section 13(1) of the TNPID Act is of crucial importance, since the word “it” referred to therein obviously means a Court of Sessions since there is no question of any committal being made to a court of a magistrate.
The bench also held that an appeal under Section 11 of the TNPID Act is confined to the orders passed by the Special Court under Sections 7 to 10 of the TNPID Act and under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, and will not include judgments of convictions or acquittals.
“If we were to agree with Shivakumar J. and hold that Section 11 is the 18 repository of appellate powers, then, a very anomalous situation would arise inasmuch as all orders, interlocutory or final, including remand orders, bail orders, return of property, issuance of non-bailable warrants, issuance of search warrants, orders dismissing private complaints under Section 203, discharge or refusal to discharge orders, et al will automatically become appealable to the High Court by virtue of Section 11 of the TNPID Act. This will become counterproductive to the very object of constituting a Special Court,” the bench said.