The indictment of the prevailing misuse of criminal law as a tool to settle civil disputes came in a case involving a sale agreement.
Taking serious note of “rampant misuse of process of law by unjustly converting civil disputes into criminal cases”, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has directed the courts across Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh to act against “disgruntled litigants” engaged in this practice.
The misuse of criminal law as a tool to settle civil disputes came in a case in which the complainant alleged that the defendant took ₹25 lakh as an advance following an agreement to sell land. But he did not execute the sale deed.
Justice Harpreet Singh Brar asked the courts to invoke the provisions of the IPC for producing false evidence and for offences against public justice providing punishment for instituting false charges.
The Bench added the proceedings should be initiated in cases where the court after the conclusion of the trial found that the dispute involved was purely civil and had its remedy in civil law.
According to the bench, the sole test to ascertain whether such proceedings in a cheating case were needed was to see whether culpable intention could be attributed to the accused from the beginning.
Justice Brar said that the instructions were being issued to protect citizens from unwanted criminal prosecution.
“The trial court should take appropriate steps to initiate proceedings by invoking any of the provisions contained in Chapter XI of the IPC, which contains provisions for offences of adducing false evidence and offences against public justice, like the provisions under Section 211, which provide for punishment for instituting a false charge of offence with the intention to cause injury against the persons concerned,” ruled the bench.
The ruling also highlighted that mere breach of contract or an agreement could not give rise to criminal proceedings, in the absence of a dishonest intention from the beginning of the transaction.
“The misuse of criminal law machinery for settling civil disputes has become menacingly prevalent. The investigating agency often succumbs to various pressures and motives to launch prosecution at the behest of disgruntled litigants and mechanically registers FIRs. The predominantly civil dispute is given criminal contours to provide an expeditious mechanism to pressure the other party for settlement”, added Justice Brar.