Exercise of Inherent Powers sans Responsibility
The Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 makes a distinction between compoundable and non-compoundable offences (Section 320 of CrPC). Compoundable offences are of a less serious nature than non-compoundable. The offences have been classified in accordance with public policy. The offences which are non-compoundable may be compounded if the Supreme Court and High Court exercise their powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India and Section 482 of CrPC respectively. These powers differ in their scope but have been bestowed upon the superior courts to enable them to do complete justice. However, such exercise of power by the HCs and SC must be used in appropriate cases, be restrained and must not become a matter of routine. Unfortunately, this is not what is happening. The power is either being used repeatedly and without restraint or the power is being declared to be non-existent.
Quashing of FIRs filed under Section 498A, IPC after compromise
As a matter of routine, FIRs under Section 498A, IPC are being quashed by the HCs. Cases are being filed for the sole purpose of putting pressure on the husband and to force him to concede to the demands of the wife as it is taken for granted that once a compromise is reached the FIR would be quashed. Whether this situation has arisen because of misuse of the provision by women or because of the frequent quashing of FIRs is disputable and of no importance now. What matters is to ensure that the purpose of introducing the Section is fulfilled, i.e. to help women who are victims of cruelty.
The routine quashing of FIRs has resulted in arguments that the provision is being misused by women and therefore the offence should be made into a compoundable one or should be repealed all together. It is being forgotten that the provision is actually being misused by lawyers who advise women to file a case under it and promise to get it quashed later. Hapless women who are unaware of the legal provisions blindly follow the advice provided by their lawyers. The trend is unfair to men as well as women who are actually victims and ultimately beneficial for the lawyers.
Quashing of FIRs filed under Section 375, IPC after compromise
Recently the Supreme Court in State of Madhya Pradesh v. Madan Lal (2015) held that no compromise can even be thought of in rape cases. The reasoning provided by the court was: “these are crimes against the body of a woman which is her own temple. These are offences which suffocate the breath of life and sully the reputation. And reputation, needless to emphasise, is the richest jewel one can conceive of in life. No one would allow it to be extinguished. When a human frame is defiled, the “purest treasure”, is lost. Dignity of a woman is a part of her non-perishable and immortal self and no one should ever think of painting it in clay. There cannot be a compromise or settlement as it would be against her honour which matters the most. It is sacrosanct.” Clearly, the reason that appealed to the court was that in a rape case a woman’s dignity is lost and hence there should be no scope of a compromise. The decision relied on stereotypical notions and promoted the viewpoint that the body, honour and reputation (also dependent on the woman’s body) are the most important for a woman. The court could have come to a similar conclusion without stereotyping by simply holding that a compromise can generally not take place in a rape case because it is a serious offence against the body and thus, a compromise would be against public policy.
Despite this judgment, the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Dalbir Singh & Ors v. State of Punjab & Ors on the 15th of September, 2015 quashed an FIR in a rape case on the ground that a compromise had been reached between the parties and the accused had agreed to marry the victim. Allowing a compromise on this ground can prove disastrous for the woman. In Indian society, a rape victim is ostracised and it is difficult for her to lead a normal life. Thus, it is probable that the family of the victim might pressurise the girl to marry the accused to prevent loss of respect and dignity of the family. However, this might destroy the life of the girl as apart from the mental trauma of living with her rapist, she subjects herself to the possibility of being repeatedly raped by the same man. Moreover, she would be left with no remedy later as marital rape is not criminalised in India.
The High Court and the Supreme Court have rightly been bestowed with extraordinary powers to do complete justice as no written law, however detailed and well intentioned, can account for all situations. But with power comes responsibility. The courts cannot devise straight jacket formulae to decide in what cases the power can be used; else a question mark is put on the very justification of giving inherent powers to enable the courts to give decisions in the interests of justice.Saema Jamil is an Assistant Professor at Lloyd Law College