Private complaints: Adopt halt and proceed approach, says HC

Justice P. Krishna Bhat passed the order while setting aside the cognizance of offences taken by a magistrate court at Gokak in Belagavi district

March 02, 2021 10:26 am | Updated 10:26 am IST - Bengaluru

The High Court of Karnataka has directed that the trial courts must adopt what could be conveniently called “halt and proceed” approach before issuing summons to the persons named as accused in private complaints when such persons reside outside the territorial jurisdiction of the particular trial court.

Referring to the provisions of Section 202 of Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr. PC), which specifically mandates the trial courts to postpone issue of process/summons to enable the trial judge to inquire himself or order investigation into the complaint when the persons named as accused are residing outside its territorial jurisdiction, the High Court said the trial courts “cannot treat this onerous obligation like a mere ritual or an empty formality”.

“This halt and proceed approach is mandatory and any violation of the same will fetch a ‘red signal’ from Section 202 of Cr. P.C...” the High Court said.

Justice P. Krishna Bhat passed the order while setting aside the cognizance of offences taken by a magistrate court at Gokak in Belagavi district against several prominent companies and their directors based on a complaint lodged by Inspector, Legal Metrology, Gokak for alleged violation of certain provisions of Legal Metrology Act, 2009 related to violation of packaging rules.

The magistrate had in June 2020 taken cognisance of offences against M/s P J Margo, Nestle India Ltd., Reckitt Benckiser(India) Ltd. and M/s. Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd. and a host of their directors.

“A cursory glance of the complaints would have revealed to the trial judge that the companies and petitioners arraigned as accused in the complaints are located/residing outside his territorial jurisdiction,” the High Court said while pointing out that “this would have alerted the trial judge to seek guidance from Cr. PC” on proceeding against persons residing outside its jurisdiction.

“This is a guarantee assured to all the potential accused in private complaints residing outside the territorial jurisdiction of the summoning court that before they are called upon to make an arduous trip to the court to answer the charges, the court has doubly assured itself that they are, in light of materials available before it, liable to answer such charges,” the High Court made it clear.

While setting aside the cognisance of complaints, the court directed the Gokak magistrate to apply his mind afresh and take a proper decision as per law.

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