Revisional Jurisdiction Of Criminal Courts: Constricted?

Chetna Alagh

27 May 2024 4:30 AM GMT

  • Revisional Jurisdiction Of Criminal Courts: Constricted?

    Many a time, criminal courts pronounce orders which may have a patent defect or any error of law. In such a scenario, an aggrieved party looks for answers to such orders and this is why, the legislature in its wisdom, has prescribed a remedy to set right a defective order in the form of revision, under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC, hereinafter). The revisional jurisdiction of...

    Many a time, criminal courts pronounce orders which may have a patent defect or any error of law. In such a scenario, an aggrieved party looks for answers to such orders and this is why, the legislature in its wisdom, has prescribed a remedy to set right a defective order in the form of revision, under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC, hereinafter). The revisional jurisdiction of the criminal courts is a very narrow one and cannot be exercised casually or routinely. It cannot be exercised against an interim or interlocutory order.

    The criminal jurisprudence of the country grants powers to the higher courts to exercise the powers of revision whenever a lower court's order smacks arbitrariness and perversity. Section 397 of the CrPC states that the High Court or the Sessions Judge has the power to call for the examination of the records of any proceeding before any subordinate criminal court situated within its local jurisdiction for the purpose of satisfying itself to the correctness, legality or proprietary of any finding or order passed by such subordinate court. The courts also have the power to direct suspension of execution of any sentence as well as the power to release the accused on bail. However, interlocutory orders during appeals, inquiries, trials, or other processes are not subject to this authority. Section 398 of CrPC talks about the powers of the Revisional Courts to order an inquiry into a complaint that has been dismissed except when a person has been discharged. Section 401 of CrPC on the other hand grants the revisional power to the High Court and Section 399 of CrPC grants revisional powers to the Sessions Judge.

    Under the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 (BNSS), which will come into force on the 1st of July, 2024, the powers of revision of the criminal courts are the same as discussed above. However, the Sections have changed and the new Sections are Section 438 which deals with calling for records to exercise powers of revision, Section 439 that deals with power to order inquiry, Section 440 dealing with sessions judge's powers of revision and Section 442 that deals with High Court's powers of revision.

    The revisional powers of the criminal courts is limited while exercising the jurisdiction and it cannot be used to reappreciate any evidence. It is confined to check that the order passed by the subordinate court does not suffer from any error of law. The Hon'ble Supreme Court, in a plethora of judgments, had the occasion to dwell upon the purview of the revisional jurisdiction of the criminal courts and its application on the manifestly illegal orders. In the case of Kaptan Singh and others v. State of M.P. and Anr., (1997) 6 SCC 185 the Hon'ble Supreme Court discussed the ambit and sweep of revisional jurisdiction in criminal cases. The court placed reliance on several decisions, such as, in the matters of Ayodhya v. Ram Sumer Singh,1982 SCC (Cri) 471, Mahendra Pratap v. Sarju Singh, (1968) 2 SCR 287, Pakalapati Narayana Gajapathi Raju v. Bonapalli Peda Appadu, (1975) 4 SCC 477, and Chinnaswami v. State of Andhra Pradesh, 1962 SCC OnLine SC 32, to elucidate the extent and purview of revisional jurisdiction. The Court held that in order to exercise the revisional power, certain requirements must be satisfied. It was made clear that mere fact that the lower court's order had a mistake or irregularity did not justify the exercise of revisional jurisdiction. Revisional power should instead only be applied in situations where the order contains a "manifest illegality" that results in a "miscarriage of justice."

    Manifest illegality describes an error or legal transgression that is evident from the lower court's order. This could be in the form of a blatant disobedience to the law, irregularities in the procedure, or an order issued without jurisdiction but when a significant injustice or unfairness befalls the matter, it is called a grave miscarriage of justice.

    In the Supreme Court case State of Kerala v. Puttumana Illath Jathavedan Namboodiri, (1999) 2 SCC 452, the Court explained the character and extent of the revisional jurisdiction that the High Court possesses in criminal cases. The court stressed that revisional power is a type of supervisory jurisdiction meant to rectify injustices; it is not the same as appellate jurisdiction. The High Court's authority to review a lower court's decisions, rulings, or orders is meant to enable it to assess whether or not those actions were appropriate, lawful, or correct but this does not necessitate reevaluating the evidence in a way that resembles an appeal court's. Instead, the High Court should wait to reexamine the evidence unless there are glaring indications of a grave injustice. It is not intended to serve as a second appeal where the evidence is thoroughly reviewed again. Instead, the emphasis is on establishing justice and redressing major injustices without repeating the fact-finding procedure that subordinate courts have already carried out.

    The case of Amit Kapoor v. Ramesh Chander, (2012) 9 SCC 460, provided significant clarification on the scope and extent of revisional jurisdiction under Section 397 of the CrPC by the Supreme Court. The court emphasised that, rather than being a broad or ordinary power, the revisional jurisdiction granted to higher courts is a strictly limited authority meant to correct specific kinds of errors or injustices. Justice and the avoidance of judicial abuse are not specifically mentioned in Section 397 of the CrPC, but it does allow for limited intervention. Under this section, the court's jurisdiction is contingent upon the validity, appropriateness, or accuracy of its own orders, with a primary focus on the administration of justice. Revisional jurisdiction can only be used in grave error cases, the court made clear—that is, when there is a blatant violation of the law, when there is no evidence at all to support the decision, or when the court arbitrarily exercises its discretion. Essentially, the section allows for judicial review to uphold the rule of law and correct injustices. As a result, before the higher courts can get involved in revisions, there needs to be a compelling reason. The court further emphasised that because interlocutory or interim orders are typically handled through other legal channels, they are not subject to revisional jurisdiction.

    In the case of K. Kuppuraj v. J. Thrilokamurthy, Criminal Revision petition No. 606 of 2020, the Karnatka High Court, discussed the scope and ambit of Section 397 of CrPC. It held that the revisional jurisdiction can be invoked when the decision being challenged is egregiously wrong, involves breaking the law, is based on uncertain factual conclusions, overlooks substantial evidence, or the lower court acted in an arbitrary, perverse, or beyond its authority, depriving the public of justice. Furthermore, the Rajasthan High Court in the matter of Sudhir Bordiya v. the State, 2022 SCC OnLine Raj 765, held that it is sufficient to proceed with filing charges against the accused if there is a strong suspicion at the relevant stage. Before a revisional court, a petition for discharge may only be approved if the court finds that the evidence already in the file is completely inadequate to support a trial. Again, in the matter of, Smt. Rekha Soni v. Gopal and Ors., 2023 SCC OnLine MP 3772, the Madhya Pradesh High Court has also held that when exercising its revisional jurisdiction, the court must determine whether the decisions made by the lower courts clearly violated the law or constituted a miscarriage of justice, as the scope of Revisional Jurisdiction under Section 401 CrPC Limited in nature. In another matter titled Ikba v. The State of Maharashtra and Ors., 2024 SCC OnLine Bom 43, the High Court of Judicature at Bombay, has held that if the accused is not in custody already, a warrant must be issued under Section 418 of the Cr.P.C. after the appellate court dismisses an appeal against a conviction. The High Court, in its revisional jurisdiction, has the power to make sure that the accused, whose conviction was upheld by the lower appellate court, has turned themselves in to the authorities if the accused later files a revision under Section 397 of the Cr.P.C. In a number of other cases, including Vinay Tyagi v. Irshad Ali, (2013) 5 SCC 762, Chandra Babu v. State, (2015) 8 SCC 774, and Ashish Chadha v. Smt. Asha Kumari & others, AIR 2012 SC 431, the court emphasised in its decisions that although revisional jurisdiction is usually applied to cases involving legal disputes, it can also be appropriate in situations involving fact-finding, especially if a decision has been made incorrectly. Ensuring that justice is done and the court does not abuse its authority is the main goal of using revisional powers.

    The consequence of the aforesaid discussion is that the revisional jurisdiction of the criminal courts is undoubtedly constricted in its ambit. It has to be applied in situations where there is a complete illegality in an order that has grown into a travesty of justice. The jurisdiction is one of supervisory nature and can in no way be compared to an appellate jurisdiction. The reevaluation of evidence is beyond the scope of the revisional court and it should always be borne in mind by the criminal courts that the reappreciation of evidence can only be possible when there is grave injustice or the decision is grossly erroneous based on arbitrariness and perversity. The jurisdiction cannot be invoked when there is compliance with the provisions of the law and the judicial discretion has been exercised judiciously. Therefore, the revisional jurisdiction being a restricted one in its sweep, nonetheless can be availed for setting right a patent defect and errors of jurisdiction or law.

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