Delhi High Court issues guidelines for drafting a Settlement Agreement in matrimonial disputes of criminal nature; Directs agreements to be prepared in Hindi too

delhi high court

Delhi High Court: In a petition filed by the petitioner under Section 482 of Criminal Procedure Code (‘CrPC’), seeking quashing of FIR registered at Police Station Uttam Nagar, for the offences punishable under Sections 498-A, 406, and 34 of Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’) inspite of the alleged settlement arrived between the parties. Swarana Kanta Sharma, J., quashes the FIR having found that the settlement agreement was drafted ambiguously resulting in the FIR against husband being quashed and other relatives being pending for lack of specific names in it.

The marriage between the complainant i.e., respondent 2 and co-accused Lalit was solemnized but alleging physical and mental cruelty for demand of dowry and beating by her husband and in-laws, an FIR was registered. The matter was, however, amicably settled before the mediation center and all the disputes were resolved between the parties vide an agreement. The police later filed a charge sheet against all the accused persons, meanwhile, the husband filed a petition seeking the quashing of FIR against him which was duly granted resulting in the FIR being quashed before the summons could reach him.

The summons against other relatives reached them and it is then they realised that they must seek quashing as well, however, the complainant conveniently changed her mind and appeared before the Court to inform that she had not entered into an agreement with them but only with her husband and therefore, FIR cannot be quashed, even after receiving the entire amount of settlement including the amount for quashing of FIR.

The Court noted that if the Settlement Agreement is scrutinized from a close angle, it will be revealed that though it has been signed by the husband only, it is clear from the contents of the agreement that the settlement was being arrived at on behalf of all the respondents i.e. co-accused persons in present FIR since they were his close family members.

The Court further noted that at the time of hearing of the anticipatory bail application filed by the husband pursuant to registration of FIR, the case had been referred for mediation by the Court concerned and thereafter, the matter had been settled. Thus, after the FIR was quashed in relation to the husband as cognizance had only been taken against him by the Magistrate, the other family members i.e. the petitioners herein may have been oblivious to the fact that they could have been summoned by the Court and the matter, which had been resolved amicably in the year 2014, may be prolonged for another 10 years.

The Court remarked that the dispute in question has arisen primarily due to an inadequately worded and ambiguous Mediated Settlement Agreement, thus, merely writing in the Settlement Agreement that a petition for quashing would be filed “by the respondents for quashing of FIR”, had the mediator specifically mentioned that the FIR as well as all proceedings emanating therefrom, were to be quashed qua all the accused persons, along with their names.

The Court laid down guidelines in relation to drafting of a Mediated Settlement Agreement, in addition to the guidelines already laid down in Rajat Gupta v. Rupali Gupta, 2018 SCC OnLine Del 9005:

(i) Specify Names of Parties: The agreement must specifically contain names of all the parties to the agreement.

(ii) Avoid Ambiguous Terms: The terms such as ‘respondent’, ‘respondents’, ‘petitioner’ or ‘petitioners’, in absence of their names in the agreement must be avoided in an agreement as it leads to ambiguities and further litigation.

(iii) Include All Details: The terms and conditions of the agreement reached between the parties, howsoever small and minute they may be, must be incorporated in the agreement.

(iv) Timeline For Compliance: The timeline of the fulfilment of terms and conditions as well as their execution must be clearly mentioned. There should be no tentative dates as far as possible.

(v) Default Clause: A default clause should be incorporated in the agreement and the consequences thereof should be explained and enlisted in the agreement itself.

(vi) Mode of Payment: In case any payment is to be made as per the settlement, the agreement should specify the method of payment agreed upon between the parties which should also be as per their convenience i.e., electronic mode, by way of a Demand Draft or FDR and the necessary details for fulfillment of this condition.

(vii) Follow-Up Documents: The agreement should also stipulate as to which Follow-up documents are to be prepared and signed by which party. It may also be mentioned as to when, where, how and at whose cost such documents are to be prepared in furtherance of the terms of the agreement, as far as possible.

(viii) Cases involving 498-A IPC: Further, especially in cases of matrimonial disputes, where one of the conditions in the Agreement is to cooperate in the quashing of FIR, such as those under Section 498-A IPC, and filing of the affidavit and appearing in the Court for the purpose of the same, it is advisable that the agreement must stipulate the names of all the parties concerned who have been named in the FIR specifically and the fact that the claims have been settled in totality for quashing of entire FIR and proceedings emanating therefrom qua all persons named in the FIR. It is also clarified specifically that the FIR will be quashed in totality against all the persons arrested, not arrested, charge sheeted, or not charge sheeted, with their names and whether the entire FIR will be quashed against all of them upon payment by the husband or any other person on behalf of the husband.

(ix) Criminal Complaints/Cross-cases: Criminal Complaints filed by parties against each other, pending trial or investigation should also find specific mention with names of all the parties, the Court concerned, and as to how the parties intend to deal with them. The number/details of the complaint, FIR, Sections under which they have been filed, should also be mentioned specifically.

(x) Read and Understood: The agreement should necessarily mention that all the parties have read and understood the contents of the settlement agreement in their vernacular language.

(xi) Signing of Agreement: In case only one or some parties are present during mediation proceedings and only their signatures are obtained on the agreement, it be clearly mentioned and clarified that the agreement is being signed on behalf of those relatives or parties also even in case they are not present, in case the agreement is qua them too and they are not present in person due to age, ailment, distance or any other reason. It is important to do so since in matrimonial offences, the near and distant relatives may, due to above reasons, not be present in person but agreements are reached in totality, especially regarding quashing of FIRs and criminal proceedings and withdrawal of complaints.

(xii) Clarity of Language: At last, the language used in a settlement agreement must be definite enough to understand the real intention of the parties and the goals they wish to achieve by entering into the agreement.

The Court observed that there is an urgent need to ensure that the agreement drafted to settle the issues to bring an end to a future or pending lis does not itself become a matter of dispute giving rise to another lis between the parties. A mediator should bear in mind that the level of understanding of the parties concerned may vary according to their social backgrounds, and thus, the mediator should remain attentive and alert to the circumstances, capacity, and linguistic abilities of the parties involved, considering their backgrounds and language proficiency.

Many litigants who approach the Court speak Hindi as their first language and given that Hindi is their mother tongue, they are far more adept at speaking and understanding it than other languages such as English. Thus, per the Central Government’s directions, a Hindi Department has been constituted in every Court, and Hindi Committee is also constituted in every Court complex. The Court directed concerned In-charge of Mediation Centres will ensure that the mediated settlement agreements are prepared in Hindi language also, in addition to English language, as far as possible.

Thus, the Court quashed the FIR qua all accused persons as the agreement in the present case for quashing of the FIR was qua all the respondents as mentioned in clause 5 of the Settlement Agreement in question.

[Chhatter Pal v State, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 3026, decided on 16-05-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case:

Mr. P.K. Anand, Advocate for the Petitioner;

Mr. Satish Kumar, APP for the State with SI Tej Ram, P.S. Uttam Nagar;

Ms. Shanta Pandey, Mr. Hiren Dasan, Ms. Preeti Chauhan, Advocates for R-2 with R-2.

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