Preliminary inquiry & opportunity of hearing to would-be accused under Section 340 CrPC: Whether mandatory? Supreme Court answers

Section 340

   

Supreme Court: While answering the reference questions arising from a reference order of a Division Bench, the 3-judges Bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Abhay S. Oka and Vikram Nath, JJ., held that Section 340 of the CrPC does not mandate a preliminary inquiry and an opportunity of hearing to the would-be accused before a complaint is made under Section 195 of the CrPC.

Questions Referred

The instant matter arose from a reference made to a three Judges Bench by an order passed in State of Punjab v. Jasbir Singh, (2020) 12 SCC 96, seeking the following questions to be answered:

“(i) Whether Section 340 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 mandates a preliminary inquiry and an opportunity of hearing to the would-be accused before a complaint is made under Section 195 of the Code by a Court?

(ii) what is the scope and ambit of such preliminary inquiry?”

Background

The High Court, by the impugned judgment in Jasbir Singh v. State of Punjab, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 2965, granted relief to the respondent while dealing with an aspect of forgery in a civil case, on the reasoning that the FIR registered against the respondent-accused did not comply with the mandatory requirements of Section 340 which provides for the procedure in cases mentioned in section 195, particularly because the FIR was filed without any inquiry and without giving any opportunity to the respondent to be heard.

The Reference Order

By the reference order in State of Punjab v. Jasbir Singh, (2020) 12 SCC 96, the Division Bench of the Supreme Court noted that a three Judges Bench in Pritish v. State of Maharashtra, (2002) 1 SCC 253, had held that the purpose of a preliminary inquiry under Section 340(1), CrPC was not to find whether a person is guilty or not but only to decide whether it was expedient in the interest of justice to inquire into the offence. It was thus observed that the Court is not obliged to make a preliminary inquiry on a complaint but if the Court decides to do so, it should make a final set of the facts which is expedient in the interest of justice that offence should be further probed into.

The Division Bench noted that the views of the Court in Pritish’s case (supra) were conflicting with the views of the other 3-judges’ Bench in Sharad Pawar v. Jagmohan Dalmiya, (2010) 15 SCC 290, to the extent that in para 7, it was observed that it was necessary to conduct a preliminary inquiry as contemplated under Section 340 CrPC. and also, to afford an opportunity of being heard to the defendants.

The Division Bench, in the reference order simultaneously noted the observations of the Constitution Bench in Iqbal Singh Marwah v. Meenakshi Marwah, (2005) 4 SCC 370, which was post the judgment in Pritish’s case (supra) but prior to the judgment in Sharad Pawar’s case (supra). In the said case, the Constitution Bench had opined:

“In view of the language used in Section 340 CrPC the Court is not bound to make a complaint regarding commission of an offence referred to in Section 195(1)(b), as the Section is conditioned by the words ‘Court is of opinion that it is expedient in the interest of justice.’ This shows that such a course will be adopted only if the interest of justice requires and not in every case. Before filing of the complaint, the Court may hold a preliminary enquiry and record a finding to the effect that it is expedient in the interests of justice that enquiry should be made into any of the offences referred to in Section 195(i)(b). This expediency will normally be judged by the Court by weighing not the magnitude of injury suffered by the person affected by such forgery or forged document, but having regard to the effect or impact, such commission of offence has upon administration of justice.”

Analysis and Conclusion

In the view of the above, the Court held that the Constitution Bench’s view would naturally prevail which makes the legal position quite abundantly clear. Additionally, the Court noted that what is reported in Sharad Pawar’s case (supra) is only an order giving factual scenario and not a judgment that lays down the principles of law. As a matter of caution, the Court remarked,

“The scenario is that any order or judgment passed by this Court becomes a reportable exercise to create more volumes of reported cases! This thus has a possibility at times of causing some confusion on the legal principles prevalent. The observations in the quoted paragraph extracted aforesaid apparently came out of the flow of the order rather than pronouncing any principles of law and that is why the Bench itself categorized what is observed as an order i.e, in the given factual scenario.”

Hence, the Court concluded that there is no question of opportunity of hearing in a scenario of this nature and the law as enunciated by the Constitution Bench in Iqbal Singh Marwah’s case (supra) is in line with what was observed in Pritish’ case (supra). Further, the Bench noted that interestingly both the aforesaid judgments had not been noted in order passed in Sharad Pawar’s Case (supra).

Consequently, the Court answered the first question negatively. Insofar as the second question is concerned, the Court held that scope and ambit of such a preliminary inquiry already stands resolved in terms of the Constitution Bench judgment in the Iqbal Singh Marwah’s case (supra). The matter is directed to be placed before the regular Bench for consideration on merits.

[State of Punjab v. Jasbir Singh, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1240, decided on 15-09-2022]


Advocates who appeared in this case :

For Appellant(s): AOR Rooh-e-hina Dua, Advocates Harshit Khanduja, Kanishak Bunderwal, and Ananya Sikri

For Respondent(s): AOR Shubham Bhalla and Advocates Sumeir Ahuja, Akansha Gulati, and Deepak Samota


*Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together.

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