High Court Dismisses Cruelty Charges Against Elderly Couple

INTRODUCTION

A First Information Report (hereinafter F.I.R.), that claimed a lady had abused her 80 and 75-year-old in-laws at the Malabar Hill police station, was recently dismissed by the Hon’ble Bombay High Court. An old couple was the subject of that F.I.R. that was overturned by the Bombay High Court, which declared the probe to be “mala-fide” and a “gross abuse of the process of law“. The investigating officer was chastised by the court for submitting a charge sheet without producing enough proof. Their daughter-in-law had accused the pair of being unkind. The couple’s bank accounts were also ordered to be unfrozen by the court.

GIST OF THE F.I.R. FILED BY THE COMPLAINANT

The complaint tied the knot with the old couple’s adopted son in May of 2018. She first lived with her in-laws at her married house after being married, and then she moved to Dubai to live with her spouse because he was working there. She lived with her parents when she later traveled back to Mumbai.

The complainant stated that she was harassed by her in-laws for trivial issues while she was staying with them. They gave her leftover food and prohibited her from opening the refrigerator. She further stated that the father-in-law smirked at her and frequently demanded that she pay for all of her bills because her father did not provide for her adequately.

Her spouse was also the target of allegations. She said that throughout her time in Dubai, the spouse frequently got into arguments with her and mistreated her physically and psychologically. He stopped her from going back to Dubai after she departed on the pretext that her visa had expired. She further accused the husband and his parents of retaining jewelry worth ₹1.1 crore given to her by her parents, and hence, an F.I.R. was filed in September 2020.

LEGAL CONTENTIONS OF THE ACCUSED COUPLE

The in-laws claimed that since the F.I.R. did not identify any wrongdoing against them, it was only filed to harass them. Since June 2018, the complainant has not lived with them. They further stated that the Investigating Officer froze their bank accounts and closed their lockers during the inquiry, leaving them devoid of the bare minimum money to cover their daily costs and any medical bills. They also sought to de-seal and de-freeze the lockers and bank accounts as they were implicated in a malicious proceeding. The elderly couple requested the F.I.R. against them be dismissed by the Hon’ble Court. The pair were charged under the IPC with many offenses, including cruelty, criminal breach of trust, and adultery on their daughter-in-law, according to the F.I.R.

The Hon’ble Court granted the in-laws’ petition and harshly criticized the investigating officer, stating that the elderly couple was improperly brought to trial even though there was little “prima facie evidence” to support their claims. Both “mala-fide” and “gross abuse of the process of law” were used to describe the probe. The Hon’ble Court made remarks against the Investigating Officer, during the order-passing process, claiming that he had filed a charge sheet against the court’s order, which prohibited them from doing so.

The Investigation Officer does not have unfettered discretion to brand an innocent person as an accused, to file a charge sheet, and to send him to trial unless uncontroverted allegations and material collected in the course of the investigation raise a suspicion that the person is involved in the commission of a cognizable offense

~ Bombay High Court

After ruling that the case lacked validity, the Divisional Bench, which included Justices Anuja Prabhudesai and Nitin R. Borkar, declared that the petitioners’ names needed to be cleared, thereby quashing the F.I.R. that had been filed against them. The elderly couple’s arguments were accepted by the court which also ordered the de-freezing of their accounts due to evidence of highhandedness in the police inquiry.

QUASHING OF THE F.I.R.

The procedure of voiding or disqualifying a police-filed false report is known as “quashing of F.I.R.” If it is quashed, a competent court will dismiss or declare the accusations or charges included in the F.I.R. invalid. In most cases, Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (hereinafter CrPC) is used as a means for quashing an F.I.R.

The court may choose to revoke an F.I.R. depending on the specifics of the facts and circumstances of each instance. The court takes into account several variables, including the veracity of the accusations, the absence of prima facie evidence, the parties’ agreement, improper use of the legal system, and the existence of special circumstances. Usually, it is completed before the trial starts, early in the criminal process. But in rare circumstances, if an F.I.R. is deemed to be oppressive, vexatious, or an abuse of the court’s procedure, it may be invalidated even during the trial.

A few grounds for quashing an F.I.R. are Lack of a Prima Facie Case, False or Frivolous Allegations, and Abuse of the Legal Process. The court can consider quashing the F.I.R. if there is not enough information or proof to create a prima facie case against the accused. A legitimate reason to request the quashing of an accusation might be the lack of reliable evidence or its insufficiency. The court may quash the F.I.R. if it is determined that it is founded on baseless or false claims and it is clear that the complaint was filed with ill intent or ulterior motivations. If there are inconsistencies or contradictions in the claims, they might not be enough unless they are significant and address the core of the case. If the court determines that the F.I.R. was filed vicariously, to harass the accused, or as a consequence of an abuse of the legal process, it may be dismissed. The F.I.R. submitted with a hidden agenda or to put pressure on the defendant may be seen as a misuse of the judicial system leading to subsequent quashing.

The landmark case that granted or clarified the position of the High Courts in quashing the F.I.R. by the Supreme Court was State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal, 1992 AIR 604, where the Supreme Court laid down guidelines for exercising the inherent power of the High Court to quash an F.I.R. under Section 482 of Cr. PC. The court emphasized that the power of quashing should be exercised sparingly and only in cases where there is abuse of the process of law or where the allegations are false or frivolous.

In the recent case of Manju Ram Kalita v. State of Assam, (2009) 13 SCC 330, the Supreme Court quashed an F.I.R. on the basis that it was filed with “mala-fide” intent and lacked credibility. The court reiterated that F.I.R.s cannot be used as instruments for settling personal or political scores and that the power to quash should be exercised when the allegations are manifestly false, frivolous, or vexatious.

The Supreme Court had recently also made it clear that High Courts too have the authority to quash an F.I.R. even in cases where the charge sheet was submitted concurrently with Section 482 Cr. P.C petition. “The High Court is well-established in its jurisdiction to consider and act upon a petition filed under Section 482 CrPC to quash the F.I.R., even if a charge sheet is submitted by the police while the case is pending.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, it should be noted that the procedure for quashing a false F.I.R. is sensitive and necessitates a careful analysis of the relevant legal rules and evidence. Ensuring justice and shielding people from unfounded allegations are vital, but maintaining the integrity of the judicial system is just as critical. When deciding whether to quash F.I.R.s, courts are crucial in the decision-making process because they carefully consider all relevant facts and legal doctrines. To avoid abuse and to preserve the public’s confidence in the legal system, this authority must be used wisely. A fair and equitable judicial system must strike a balance between protecting the rights of the accused and maintaining the integrity of criminal procedures which should be determined by a dedication to the rule of law.

Aditya Pratap is a lawyer and founder of Aditya Pratap Law Offices. He practices in the realm of real estate, corporate, and criminal law. His website is adityapratap.in and his media interviews can be accessed at http://www.youtube.com/@AdityaPratap/featured. Views expressed are personal.


This article has been assisted by Kush Shanker, a 2nd year law student pursuing B.B.A.LL.B. (Hons.) College from Maharashtra National Law University, Aurangabad.