Cognizance of offences committed under SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act can only be taken by a Special Court

High Court of Jharkhand at Ranchi: The Court recently addressed a petition which had been filed for quashing a previous order given by the Chief Judicial Magistrate wherein the CJM took cognizance of offences under certain sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and the Penal Code.

The facts of the case are that the original complaint petition was filed before the Court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate under Section 156(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code following which it was registered under as a separate complaint under Sections 376, 417 and 506 of the Penal Code and Sections 3(1)(x), 3(1)(xii) and 2(v) of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The CJM then took cognizance of the alleged offences under the aforementioned sections of the Penal Code and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and kept the file for commitment which gave rise to a separate case.

The counsel for the petitioner argued that the Magistrate did not have the authority to take cognizance under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, as cognizance could only be taken by the Special Court which has been constituted for the purposes of this Act. The counsel pointed out that not only was cognizance taken of the sections under the Penal Code but also all those sections under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The counsel referred to Moly v. State of Kerala, 2004 CRI. L. J. 1812 (SC) in which the Supreme Court held, “for trial of the offences under the Act that a particular Court of Session in each district is sought to be specified as a Special Court… The Act contemplates only the trial to be conducted by the Special Court”. Hence, keeping this judgment in mind, the counsel argued that the Judge was acting outside of his jurisdiction.

The counsel for the opposite party submitted that the impugned order also saw the Magistrate taking cognizance to provisions of the Penal Code. He also argued that following this, the Magistrate committed the trial to the Court of Sessions for trial and thus the trial had not been vitiated. He pointed out that legislature had provided for the constitution of a Special Court for the purpose of trial of offences under the Act in question.

The bench of B.B Mangalmurti J., held that the Court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate cannot take cognizance of offences under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 since there stood no ambiguity in the decision of the Supreme Court wherein it necessitated the constitution of a Special Court for trial of offences committed under the Act. Hence, the Court set aside the impugned order. [Dhiraj Kumar v. State of Jharkhand, 2017 SCC OnLine Jhar 2266, order dated 23.11.2017]

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