SC cautions high courts over passing orders against arrest, coercive steps when probe is underway
The court also said that FIR is not an “encyclopedia” that must disclose all the facts and details relating to the offence reported and that courts should not to go into the merits of the allegations when an investigation is in progress
New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday cautioned high courts over passing orders against arrest or coercive steps pending probe even as they decide not to entertain quashing petitions, and said police has the statutory right and duty to investigate cognizable offence and criminal proceedings are not to be scuttled at the initial stage.
The apex court, which observed that passing such “blanket" interim orders without assigning reasons would hamper the investigation, said courts should not thwart any probe into cognizable offences and quashing of a complaint or FIR should be an “exception rather than an ordinary rule”.
"We caution the high courts again against passing such orders of not to arrest or ‘no coercive steps to be taken' till the investigation is completed and the final report is filed, while not entertaining quashing petitions under Section 482 CrPC and/or Article 226 of the Constitution of India,” said a bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud.
The bench, also comprising Justices MR Shah and Sanjiv Khanna, said that functions of judiciary and police are “complementary, not overlapping” and power of quashing should be exercised sparingly with circumspection in the rarest of rare cases.
The top court said this in its 64-page judgement by which it quashed the September last year interim order of the Bombay High Court which had directed that “no coercive measures shall be adopted” against the accused in respect of an FIR lodged in 2019 on allegations of cheating, forgery and others.
In its verdict, the bench noted that high courts must appreciate that speedy investigation is the requirement in the criminal administration of justice.
“The order of the high court must disclose reasons why it has passed an ad-interim direction during the pendency of the proceedings under Section 482 CrPC. Such reasons, however brief must disclose an application of mind,” the bench said.
“The aforesaid is required to be considered from another angle also. Granting of such blanket order would not only adversely affect the investigation but would have far-reaching implications for maintaining the Rule of Law,” it noted.
The bench said that while examining an FIR/complaint, the quashing of which is sought, the court cannot embark upon an enquiry as to the reliability or genuineness or otherwise of the allegations.
“It is only in cases where no cognizable offence or offence of any kind is disclosed in the first information report that the court will not permit an investigation to go on,” it said.
“Ordinarily, the courts are barred from usurping the jurisdiction of the police, since the two organs of the State operate in two specific spheres of activities and one ought not to tread over the other sphere,” it said, adding, “Save in exceptional cases where non-interference would result in miscarriage of justice, the court and the judicial process should not interfere at the stage of investigation of offences”.
It said that extraordinary and inherent powers of the court do not confer an “arbitrary jurisdiction” to act according to “its whims or caprice” and the first information report is not an encyclopedia which must disclose all facts and details relating to the offence reported.
“Therefore, when the investigation by the police is in progress, the court should not go into the merits of the allegations in the FIR. Police must be permitted to complete the investigation. It would be premature to pronounce the conclusion based on hazy facts that the complaint/FIR does not deserve to be investigated or that it amounts to abuse of process of law,” it said.
It said that power under section 482 CrPC is “very wide”, but conferment of wide power requires the court to be more cautious and it casts an onerous and more diligent duty on the court.
However, the court, if it thinks fit, with regard to "the parameters of quashing and the self-restraint imposed by law, more particularly the parameters laid down by this court...has the jurisdiction to quash the FIR/complaint”, the bench said.
The bench said interim order of stay of the probe during the pendency of quashing plea can be passed with circumspection and not "routinely, casually and/or mechanically”.
It said the high court “shall not and as such is not justified” in passing such order of not to arrest or “no coercive steps to be adopted” while dismissing or disposing of the quashing petition under Section 482 CrPC or under Article 226.
The bench said even in a case where the high court is prima facie of the opinion that an exceptional case is made out for grant of interim stay of further probe, it has to give brief reasons why such an interim order is required to be passed.
“Whenever an interim order is passed by the high court of ‘no coercive steps to be adopted’ within the aforesaid parameters, the high court must clarify what does it mean by ‘no coercive steps to be adopted' as the term ‘no coercive steps to be adopted’ can be said to be too vague and/or broad which can be misunderstood and/or misapplied,” the bench said.
The bench said that despite the law laid down by the apex court earlier on this issue, some high courts have continued to pass such interim orders.
It directed the apex court registry to forward a copy of this judgment to all the high courts.
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