The bench acknowledged that a balance must be struck between the rights of genuine complainants and FIRs disclosing the commission of a cognizable offence, and the statutory obligation/duty of the investigating agencies to investigate cognizable offences, on the one hand, and the rights of innocent persons against whom criminal proceedings are initiated, which may be an abuse of the law and process in a given case.
However, if the facts are vague, and the inquiry has only just begun, the High Court must allow the investigating agency to carry out its statutory obligation and continue the investigation. The power to grant a stay comes with responsibility, and the High Court must assign brief reasons why further investigation is required at that time, which will reflect the Court’s application of mind to the relevant facts, as speedy investigation is a requirement in criminal administration of justice. The High Courts should be cautious in interfering in criminal proceedings at the outset, where a quashing petition is filed immediately after the FIR/complaint is lodged and the police have not been given sufficient time to investigate the allegations of the FIR/complaint, as is their statutory right/duty under the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The bench held that there is no denying that the power conferred by Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure is broad, but as the Hon’ble Apex Court has repeatedly stated in a series of decisions, broad power requires the Court to exercise greater caution and imposes an onerous and diligent obligation on the Court. The pursuit of justice should take precedence and even if the quashing petition is eventually dismissed after a long stay, the future investigation may not be very fruitful due to the fact that the evidence may no longer be available with the agencies.
The Supreme Court went on to criticize the practice of High Courts issuing directions not to arrest the accused during the investigation or till the charge sheet is submitted while dismissing quashing petitions. The court found that there may be a requirement of custodial inquiry for which the accused must remain in police custody and that giving such blanket orders without assigning reasons would not be acceptable.
It is mandatory for the High Court to ensure that such power under Article 226 is not exercised liberally in order to convert it into an anticipatory bail proceeding; if the High Court determines that in a given case, denying the protection against pre-arrest would amount to a gross miscarriage of justice and no case for arrest pending trial is made at all, the High Court is free to grant the relief in the nature of anticipatory bail in exercise. A blanket interim order of “no arrest” or “no coercive steps” cannot, however, be issued mechanically and on a regular basis. While dismissing a quashing petition on the grounds that no case is made out to quash the FIR/complaint, the Supreme Court held it improper to issue a direction of not to arrest and/or “no coercive steps” until a charge sheet is submitted.
To deter and prevent unscrupulous litigants from invoking the Court’s inherent jurisdiction at the drop of a hat by filing a petition for quashing of an FIR/complaint and then seeking relief by an interim order, the Hon’ble Apex Court reaffirmed and emphasized the Privy Council’s decision in the case of King Emperor v. Khwaja Nazir Ahmad, AIR 1945 PC 18 and laid down the guidelines.