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Supreme Court flags tendency to foist criminal cases in purely civil disputes

Supreme Court of India. File

Supreme Court of India. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Supreme Court has flagged a “growing tendency” in business circles to foist criminal cases in purely civil disputes.

This dodge is being employed under the impression that civil cases take a long time in court. Besides, entangling a person in a criminal case ups the chances for a quicker settlement, it said.

A Bench of Justices Abdul S. Nazeer and Krishna Murari endorsed the court’s long-standing position that entities or persons which employ the criminal law unnecessarily in what is entirely a civil dispute should be held accountable.

The observations came in a judgment, authored by Justice Murari, dealing with a case in which a builder company sold flats in excess of the number originally decided as per an agreement with the owner of the property.

The latter filed a criminal case of cheating against the builder. The Bench said the case was not of cheating but simply a breach of contract by the builder.

“It is necessary to take notice of a growing tendency in business circles to convert purely civil disputes into criminal cases. This is obviously on account of a prevalent impression that civil law remedies are time consuming and do not adequately protect the interests of lenders/creditors …. There is also an impression that if a person could somehow be entangled in a criminal prosecution, there is a likelihood of imminent settlement. Any effort to settle civil disputes and claims, which do not involve any criminal offence, by applying pressure through criminal prosecution should be deprecated and discouraged,” the Bench quoted in its judgment.

The court said “while no one with a legitimate cause or grievance should be prevented from seeking remedies available in criminal law, a complainant who initiates or persists with a prosecution, being fully aware that the criminal proceedings are unwarranted and his remedy lies only in civil law, should himself be made accountable, at the end of such misconceived criminal proceedings”.

The apex court said High Courts should wisely use their power to quash criminal cases under Section 482 of the CrPC. The High Courts should keep a wary eye for cases which are essentially of civil nature but have been given a cloak of criminal offence.

“Criminal proceedings are not a shortcut for other remedies available in law … a criminal court has to exercise a great deal of caution. For the accused it is a serious matter,” the judgment said.


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Printable version | Feb 21, 2022 10:19:17 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/supreme-court-flags-tendency-to-foist-criminal-cases-in-purely-civil-disputes/article37332531.ece