Punjab and Haryana High Court: Gurvinder Singh Gill, J., observed that,
Right to appeal against conviction is an invaluable statutory right vested upon a convict by Criminal Procedure Code which cannot be allowed to be defeated by imposing any condition for availing such right.
“..depriving a convict of his right to appeal by imposing any pre-requisite for availing his statutory right to challenge conviction in a higher Court would amount to depriving his liberty without adhering to the established procedure of law.”
Petitioners were arrayed as accused in the complaint filed by the respondent under Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.
It was alleged that the cheques drawn by the accused upon their presentation in the bank by the complainant for their encashment were dishonoured.
In light of the above background, accused were tried by the Judicial Magistrate and directed to pay compensation.
Accused, on being aggrieved by the above decision preferred appeals before the Sessions Court, wherein at the time of admission of appeals, impugned orders dated 28-2-2020 were passed, wherein following was stated:
“Criminal Appeal received by entrustment. As there are fairly arguable points involved in the adjudication of the present appeal, hence, the present appeal is admitted for hearing, subject to just exceptions and to deposit of 20% of the compensation amount in view of latest amendment in Section 148 of Negotiable Instruments Act (applicable w.e.f. 01.09.2018), within one month from today. It is registered as Criminal Appeal. Now notice of this appeal be issued to the respondent through ordinary process as well as speed post on furnishing of speed post charges and copies of grounds of appeal within a week for 02-07-2020. Trial Court Record be also called for that date.”
Counsel representing the complainant argued that the lower Appellate Court having passed the orders in question in exercise of jurisdiction under statutory provisions of Section 148 of the Act, the same cannot be called to question.
Analysis, Law and Decision
The language of Section 148 of the NI Act would show that the amended provisions vest the Appellate Court with a discretion to direct deposit of an amount not less than 20% of the compensation amount as awarded by the trial Court. Although the word ‘may’ has been used in the Section but the Supreme Court in Surinder Singh Deswal v. Virender Gandhi, (2019) 11 SCC 341 has interpreted the said provisions to mean that issuance of such a direction is more in the nature of a mandate.
In view of the above-stated Supreme Court decision, power of Appellate Court, though discretionary is supposed to be a ‘rule’ and said discretion should be exercised in all the cases unless there are some exceptional circumstances
In the instant case, there were no exceptional circumstances before the lower Appellate Court so as to justify non-deposit of an amount as provided under Section 148 of the Act.
Section 148(2) of the Act would show that it is provided in unambiguous terms that the amount is required to be deposited within a period of 60 days which may further be extended by another 30 days.
In the instant case, lower Appellate Court having granted only 1 month’s period for depositing the amount, the same is contrary to the above-stated provisions.
Right of Appeal
Section 374 CrPC does not prescribe any condition for admission of an appeal.
Provisions of the statute which vests a convict with a valuable right to challenge his conviction are not circumscribed by any conditions.
Nor does any provision of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 refer to any pre-condition for availing a valuable right of the first appeal.
Further, the Bench expressed that Section 148 of the Act just vests the Appellate Court with the power to direct the appellant to deposit an amount not less than 20% of the compensation amount but under no circumstances the same can be interpreted to be a condition pre-requisite for availing the right of appeal.
Imposition of any condition at the time of suspending of sentence may be a different matter and the trial Court may in its wisdom, impose such a condition failing which the order suspending sentence may be vacated.
Supreme Court in Babu Rajirao Shinde v. State of Maharashtra, (1971) 3 SCC 337, observed that a convicted person must be held to be at least entitled to one appeal as a substantial right.
High Court also made another significant observation:
Even though the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 is a special Act and could override provisions of Cr.P.C., but there is no such specific provision in the Act which could be interpreted to mean that availing of right to appeal by a person convicted for an offence under the Act, has been made subject to some conditions.
While parting with the decision, Court held that:
(i) The condition made in the impugned orders wherein the admission of appeal has been made subject to deposit of 20% of the compensation amount is set aside and it is ordered that the appeals shall stand admitted before the lower Appellate Court. The petitioners are, however, directed to deposit an amount equivalent to 20% of the amount of compensation awarded by the trial Court within 60 days from today.
(ii) In case the aforesaid amount is deposited within 60 days from today, the bail already granted vide order dated 28.2.2020 by lower Appellate Court shall continue subject to any such fresh conditions as may be imposed by lower Appellate Court.
(iii) In case bail of any of the petitioner has been cancelled on account of non-deposit of the amount or has already been taken into custody, he shall be released forthwith on bail subject to any such conditions as may be imposed by the lower Appellate Court. He shall, however, deposit the amount of 20% within 60 days from today.
(iv) In case of failure to deposit the amount in question within a period of 60 days from today, it shall be open to the lower Appellate Court to cancel bail and to hear the appeal on merits, provided, however, subject to any such general directions issued by the High Court in the matter of hearing of cases, having regard to the present circumstances of spread of pandemic COVID-19.[Sudarshan Kumar v. Manish Manchanda, 2020 SCC OnLine P&H 2321, decided on 15-12-2020]
Advocates who appeared before the matter:
Vaibhav Sehgal, Advocate, counsel for the petitioner(s).
Nitin Thatai, Advocate for the respondent (s)