The Supreme Court has asked courts across the country to avoid the temptation to become authoritarian by passing irrelevant and unnecessary orders, particularly when ordering the initiation of prosecution.

“We have been coming across several instances, where in their anxiety to do justice, courts have gone overboard, which results in injustice, rather than justice. It is said that all power is trust and with greater power comes greater responsibility,” said a Bench consisting of Justices R.V. Raveendran and P. Sathasivam in a recent judgment.

The Bench said: “The power to order a prosecution has to be used sparingly and in exceptional circumstances, either to maintain the majesty of law or to ensure that clearly established offences relating to fraud/forgery with reference to court proceedings do not go unprosecuted or unpunished.”

Writing the judgment, Mr. Justice Raveendran said: “Ordering prosecutions in a casual manner while reversing the decision of a single judge in a writ petition, without any investigation or enquiry either by itself or by any independent investigation agency, is to be deprecated. Criminal law cannot be set into motion against a litigant, as a matter of course.”

The Bench noted that on several occasions, the Supreme Court had deprecated certain authoritarian practices which result in hardship and indicate prejudice towards litigants and even non-parties.

It said, “The well-known instances are: passing adverse remarks against government officers or others who are not parties to the list without giving an opportunity to them to show cause or justify their action; directing the State to recover any losses or damages or costs from a particular officer (who is not a party) by holding him personally liable for some alleged act or omission without giving him any opportunity to explain his position; conduct or action and directing prosecution of parties and/or non-parties in cases which merely warrant levy of costs or admonition.”

In the instant case, a Division Bench of the Madras High Court ordered initiation of criminal prosecution against the appellant S. Palani Velayutham and certain others in a dispute relating to land acquisition. The present appeal is directed against that judgment dated March 17, 2008. Allowing the appeal in part and setting aside the judgment, the Bench held that based on the facts and circumstances the direction to initiate criminal prosecution was wholly unwarranted.

Such practices result in hardship and indicate prejudice towards litigants.

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