In a landmark judgment in 2011 (Criminal Misc. Writ Petition No. 3322 of 2010), Allahabad High Court laid down clear guidelines on procedure for arrest and how Police, Mediation Cell, Investigating Agencies including Courts should proceed in matters involving matrimonial disputes,
The High Court framed 9 Questions and then went about answering each of them to clarify legal position in such matters.
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- Whether registration of an FIR is mandatory once an aggrieved woman or the eligible family members as specified under section 198A Cr.P.C approaches the police station giving information that an offence under section 498A IPC or allied provisions such as under section 3/4 D.P. Act or under section 406 I.P.C have been committed by the husband or other in-laws and their relations.
- Should the concerned police officers immediately proceed to arrest the husband and other family members of the husband whenever such an FIR is lodged.
- Can a distinction be made between the cases where arrest is immediately necessary and other cases where arrest can be deferred and an attempt be first made for bringing about mediation between the parties.
- What is the appropriate place where mediation should be conducted.
- Should a time frame be laid down for concluding the mediation proceedings.
- Who should be the members of the mediation cell in the district.
- What is the procedure to be followed by the police when a report of a cognizable offence under section 498A IPC or allied provisions is disclosed.
- Is training of mediators desirable and who should conduct the training?
- Should the offence under Section 498A be made compoundable and what steps the State Government may take in this direction.
Be Aware: Recent amendments in Code of Criminal Procedure restrict the Power of Police to make Arrests. Read the Impact of these Amendments to empower yourself to help prevent any unjustified arrests.
Question 1: Whether registration of an FIR is mandatory?
Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure mandates that when any information regarding information of a cognizable offence is given orally to the officer in charge of the Police Station, he is required to reduce it in writing and to enter it into the general diary. The said provision gives no option to the concerned Police Officer to refuse to lodge the F.I.R. once information of a cognizable offence is given to the police officer.
In paragraph No. 30 and 31 in State of Haryana and others Vs. Bhajan Lal, 1992 Cri. L.J. 527, it has been laid down that section 154 (1) of the Code provides that whenever an information is given that a cognizable offence has been committed, the Police Officer cannot embark upon an inquiry to ascertain as to whether the information was reliable or genuine or refuse to register the case on that ground. The officer in charge of the Police Station is statutorily obliged to register the case and then to proceed with the investigation, if he even has reason to suspect the commission of an offence.
Question 2: Whether arrest of husband and family members mandatory once FIR is lodged
It is noteworthy that section 154 Cr.P.C. which deals with the powers of investigation and the necessity of lodging an FIR when a cognizable offence only speaks of “information relating to the commission of a cognizable offence” given to an officer. No pre-condition, as pointed out above, is placed under this provision for first examining whether the information is credible or genuine. In contrast section 41(1)((b) Cr.P.C dealing with the powers of the police to arrest without a warrant from a Magistrate requires the existence of a “reasonable complaint,” or “credible information” or “reasonable suspicion” of the accused being involved in a cognizable offence as pre-conditions for effecting his arrest.
The two provisos to section 157 also speak of two exceptions when investigation (and consequent arrest) may not be necessary. These two situations are:
(a) when information as to the commission of any such offence is given against any person by name and the case is not of a serious nature, the officer in charge of a police station need not proceed in person or depute a subordinate officer to make an investigation on the spot;
(b) if it appears to the officer in charge of a police station that there is no sufficient ground for entering on an investigation, he shall not investigate the case. However in such situations the police officer is to mention in his report the reasons for not investigating the case. In the second case, where a police officer is of the opinion that there is no sufficient ground for investigating a matter, he is to also inform the informant of his decision.
The proviso (b) to section 157 (1) Cr. P. C. has been discussed in paragraphs No. 53 and 54 in Bhajan Lal (supra). The law report clarifies that clause (b) of the proviso permits a police officer to satisfy himself about the sufficiency of the grounds even before entering on an investigation. However, at that stage, the satisfaction that on the allegations, a cognizable offence warranting investigation is disclosed, has only to be based on the F.I.R. and other materials appended to it, which are placed before the Police Officer. Therefore, if it appears to the Police Officer that the matrimonial dispute between the spouses is either not of a grave nature or is the result of a conflict of egos or contains an exaggerated version, or where the complainant wife has not received any injury or has not been medically examined, he may even desist or defer the investigation in such a case.
Recently by Act No. 5 of 2009, the newly introduced Section 41 (1) (b), has been given effect to from 1.11.2010. This sub-section provides that if some material or credible information exists of an accused being involved in a cognizable offence punishable with 7 years imprisonment or less with or without fine, the Police Officer has only to make an arrest, if he is satisfied that such arrest is necessary (i) to prevent such person from committing any further offence, (ii) for proper investigation of the offence; (iii) to prevent such person from causing the evidence of the offence to disappear or tampering with the evidence in any manner; (iv) for preventing such person from making any inducement, threat or promise to a witness to dissuade him from disclosing such facts to the Court or the Police Officer (v) or unless such a person is arrested, he may not appear in the Court when required. This new provision has forestalled any routine arrests simply because a person is said to be involved in a cognizable offence punishable with imprisonment up to 7 years. The arrest is only to be effected if any or all of the five conditions abovementioned are fulfilled. For making or for not making such arrest, the Police Officer has to record his reasons. In contrast to this provision, under Section 41 (1) (ba) such a limitation has not been provided for those cases, where credible information has been received that a person has committed an offence punishable with imprisonment of over 7 years.
A new provision, Section 41 A Cr.P.C. has also been added by Act No. 5 of 2009 (with effect from 1.11.2010) which gives powers to a Police Officer to issue a notice directing the person against whom a reasonable complainant has been made or credible information or reasonable suspicion exists to appear before him or at any place that he may specify in the notice where the police officer is of the opinion that the arrest is not required under the provisions of section 41(1) Cr.P.C. but the accused is to comply with the notice and he would not be arrested, if he continues to comply with the terms of the notice. However, where the person fails to comply with the notice, the police has all powers to arrest him, unless there is some order of the Court granting him bail or staying his arrest.
Now an offence under section 498A IPC is punishable with imprisonment only up to three years and fine. If there are no injuries on a victim, in our opinion, it constitutes a fit case for the police officer to exercise powers conferred by the newly introduced section 41(1)(b) read with section 41 (A), where instead of straight away arresting the accused, it would be a better option at the initial stage for the police officer to require the said person to appear before him or before the Mediation Centre. As pointed out above section 41 A Cr.P.C. permits calling the person concerned before the police officer himself or to any specified place. Hence a notice can be given to the accused to appear before the mediation centre. This restraint on arrest, and placing of conditions or terms for arrest would also apply a fortiori to the accused family members of the husband of the aggrieved wife.
It may be pointed out that if the FIR is immediately registered that will placate the concerns of the aggrieved wife to some extent that action is being taken on her complaint, and it has not been put on the back burner.
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Question 3: Whether distinction possible between cases necessitating immediate arrest, and cases where attempt for mediation should first be made?
Arrest may be necessitated, if the husband or other in-laws have given a grave beating to the wife endangering her life or where the wife has been subjected to repeated violence or there are any other circumstances of exceptional cruelty against the wife, where future recurrence of violence or cruelty seems likely, or for preventing the husband and his accused family members from trying to browbeat witnesses or to tamper with the course of justice, or for ensuring the presence of the husband or his accused family members at the trial, or for effective investigation. In all other cases, we are of the opinion that an attempt should be first made for bringing about reconciliation between the parties by directing the complainant wife and her natal family members and the husband and other family members to appear before the Mediation Centre when the wife or other eligible relations under section 198-A Cr.P.C. approaches the police station for lodging the report.
The advantage of not immediately arresting the accused husband and his family members in a trivial case where there appear to be no injuries on the aggrieved wife, is that in sudden matrimonial disputes, because of clash of egos between the wife and her natal family members and the husband and in-laws, the wife’s side at the initial stage usually insists on effecting the arrests of the husband and other in-laws. Once the husband or his family members are arrested, and subsequently bailed out, little motivation remains for the parties to try and resolve their disputes by mediation. This may prove disadvantageous for the wife in the long run who may not have a source of independent livelihood for running her life in the future.
Question 4: Appropriate place where mediation should be conducted.
The officials as well as the learned Government Advocate and other lawyers present unanimously recommended that the Mediation Cell should not be at the police station. The I.G. (Public Grievances) pointed out that the police officer before whom the report is lodged lack proper training for conducting mediations sessions. Also if the police officer refrains from arresting the accused persons pursuant to the wife’s FIR, by attempting to mediate in the dispute between the parties, even if it is a case of no injury, and even where he is only acting in accordance with the general directions of the Court, questions about his integrity are unnecessarily raised.
Moreover it is pointed out by the Secretary of the Legal Services Authority that now Mediation or Conciliation Centres have been established in all the District Courts. We, therefore, think that the mediation proceedings should be carried out in the said Mediation Centre.
Question 5: Need for time frame for concluding the mediation proceedings.
The I.G. (Public Grievances) and others present rightly pointed out that a time frame must be laid down for concluding the mediation proceedings as when an aggrieved wife approaches the police for relief, because she has been subjected to cruelty. If the matter is unduly prolonged in the mediation process, the delay could act as a shield to protect the accused from facing the penalty of law, causing frustration and bitterness for the aggrieved wife. Notice should as far as possible be served personally on the accused and the parties should be directed to appear before the Mediation Centre within a week or 10 days of the lodging of the report by the aggrieved wife or family members. Thereafter we think, that as far as possible, the mediation proceedings should be concluded within two months of the first appearance of both the parties before the Mediation Centre.
Question 6: Who should be the members of the mediation cell in the district?
The Mediation Cell in the district should be headed by the Secretary of the Legal Services Authority in the district, (at present, the Civil Judge, Senior Division has been made the Secretary), other panel or retainer lawyers appointed by the District Legal Services Authority, other lawyers, who volunteer for giving free services before the Mediation centre, especially female lawyers should also be made members of the Mediation Cell. It is also desirable to have three or four social workers (especially female) in the Cell. A female police officer of the rank of Dy. S.P. may also be appointed an ex-officio member of the Mediation Cell.
Question 7: Procedure to be followed by the police when a report of a cognizable offence under section 498A IPC or allied provisions is reported
The report regarding commission of cognizable offence under section 498A IPC or other allied sections may be lodged at the concerned police station where the incident takes place or at the ‘Mahila Thana’ especially created in the district for investigation of such cases. The police officer concerned will get the aggrieved woman medically examined for injuries if the same are present. If the report has been lodged at some police station other than the Mahila Thana, the injury report and relevant police papers shall be forwarded to the Mahila Thana for investigation of the case, and in appropriate cases the investigating police officer at the Mahila Thana may refer the matter to the mediation centre in the Civil Court, and direct the complainant to be present at the mediation centre on a fixed date 7 to 10 days thereafter. The accused should as far as possible also be personally given notice to appear before the mediation centre on the date fixed. We would also like the presence of trained social workers (especially female) or legal aid panel lawyers to be present at the Mahila Thana for counselling the aggrieved woman and her family members for first trying to solve their dispute by mediation, when the case is registered at the mahila thana. The notice to the husband and other family members should mention that in cases the husband or the family members of the aggrieved wife fail to appear on the date fixed or on future dates, as directed by the Mediation Centre or fail to comply with any condition that may be imposed by the police officer or Mediation Centre, steps shall be taken for arresting the accused. The accused husband or other in-laws should be directed to report before the police officer on a date two months after the date of first appearance before the Mediation Centre and inform the Police Officer about the progress in the mediation. The in-charge of the mediation proceeding may also direct the husband or other family members to appear before the Police Officer at an earlier date fixed in case mediation has failed or it has been successfully concluded and the parties concerned shall appear before the Police Officer on the said date. It would also be open to the complainant wife to inform the police officer about the progress (or lack of it) of the mediation process. The notice should also clarify that in case mediation is pronounced as unsuccessful at an earlier date, and information is given by either party or the Mediation centre to the Police Officer, he may require the presence of the accused husband or his relations at an earlier date. If mediation has been successfully concluded, it will be open to the Police Officer to submit a final report in the matter. In cases, where it has not been successfully concluded and the Police Officer is of the view that arrest may not be necessary in a particular case, he may direct the accused persons to obtain bail from the Competent Court. In case, he is of the opinion that the arrest is necessitated at a subsequent stage, it will be open to the Police Officer to take such accused persons in custody. He should of course record his reason for making the said arrest as provided under section 41 (1) (b) (ii).
Question 8: Necessity of training to mediators.
We endorse the opinion of the intervening lawyers, the learned Government Advocate, Sri Ashok Mehta, Organizing Secretary of the Mediation Centre of the Allahabad High Court and the Government officials present, including the Secretary of the Legal Services Authority, that training for mediators is a sine qua non for effective mediation. The Organizing Secretary of the Allahabad High Court Mediation Centre (AHMC) and Secretary of the U.P. Legal Services Authority (UPLSA) stated that the centre and authority are prepared to impart training to the mediators. We welcome this offer and direct that there should be co-ordianation between the AHMC and UPLSA for giving effect to this offer. By and by as the State Government is able to create a cadre of trainers for mediation, their services may also be utilised for training mediators in the districts.
We think training is necessary because the responses to our queries from the subordinate district courts reveal the poor success rate in the cases referred by the High Court or where the concerned subordinate court has itself initiated the process of mediation. By contrast the success rate at the Mediation Centre in the Allahabad High Court, which has independent trained mediators (usually lawyers) is much higher. The first requirement for successful mediation is the patience on the part of the mediator, and his willingness to give sufficient time to the contesting parties and especially to the wife to express her bottled up grievances. Thereafter, in a disinterested manner, the mediator should encourage the parties to come up with solutions, giving useful suggestions for bringing about reconciliation, as the mediator cannot impose his solution on the parties.
The guidelines hereinabove have been spelt out by the Court because of the specific request of the officials and lawyers present to spell out the terms of the same, as guidance for the State government (esp. the home department), the Legal Services Authority and the police for issuing appropriate circulars or government orders.
Question 9: Should offences under section 498-A IPC be made compoundable?
We have received considerable feedback from subordinate judicial authorities that unless the offence under section 498-A IPC is made compoundable, much benefit cannot be derived by trying to bring about mediation between the parties. A dilemma then arises before the concerned Court, (which cannot close the trial because the spouses have compromised their dispute) or even before the aggrieved wife, if she decides to settle her dispute with her spouse and in-laws either by agreeing to stay with them or to part amicably, usually after receiving some compensation. Even if she is no more interested in repeatedly visiting the court for prosecuting the accused, in the absence of provisions for compounding the offence, she has willy nilly to perjure by making a false statement that her initial report was untrue or lodged under influence of X or Y. If on the basis of this statement the trial Court acquits the husband and his family members, and the aggrieved wife returns to her matrimonial home, in the cases where she is again maltreated, if she lodges a fresh report, its reliability will be open to question.
The Apex Court in Ramgopal v. State of M.P., 2010 SCALE 711 observed that an offence under section 498-A IPC is essentially private in nature, and it should be made compoundable if the parties are willing to amicably settle their dispute. Directions were given to the Law Commission of India to consider the matter and to make appropriate recommendations to the Government to bring about suitable amendments in the statute.
In Rajeev Verma v. State of U.P., 2004 Cri.L.J. 2956, which was a decision given by a bench in which one of us (Amar Saran J) was a member, a similar suggestion was made to the Law Commission of U.P. to recommend to the State government to make the offence under section 498-A IPC compoundable with the permission of the Court under section 320 Cr.P.C. The reasons for the suggestion were that such FIRs are often lodged in the heat of the moment, without reflection after a sudden quarrel, and sometimes as a result of wrong advice or influences. But the complaining wife, who usually has no source of independent livelihood (as a key problem in our society is the lack of economic and social empowerment of women) and is unable to provide for herself in the future, may have to suffer later if the relationship with her husband is irrevocably ruptured due to the hasty filing of the criminal case, particularly in view of the fact that the offence is non-compoundable. To meet this situation B.S. Joshi v State of Haryana, AIR 2003 SC 1386, Manoj Sharma v State, 2008 SC(Suppl) 1171, and Madan Mohan Abbot v State of Punjab, AIR 2008 SC 1969 recommended quashing of the complaint in proceedings under section 482 Cr.P.C or in the writ jurisdiction where the aggrieved wife compounded the offence. In the latter case it was observed that where the dispute is purely personal in nature, (i.e. the element of the offence being a crime against society is secondary), and the wife decides to compound the offence, as there would be little likelihood of conviction, quashing of the offence should not be refused on the hyper-technical view that the offence was non-compoundable “as keeping the matter alive with no possibility of a result in favour of the prosecution is a luxury which the Courts, grossly overburdened as they are, cannot afford and that the time so saved can be utilized in deciding more effective and meaningful litigation”
The following passage in paragraph 12 in G.V. Rao v L.H.V. Prasad, AIR 2000 SC 2474 has been cited with approval in B.S. Joshi:
“There has been an outburst of matrimonial disputes in recent times. The marriage is a sacred ceremony, the main purpose of which is to enable the young couple to settle down in life and live peacefully. But little matrimonial skirmishes suddenly erupt which often assume serious proportions resulting in commission of heinous crimes in which elders of the family are also involved with the result that those who could have counselled and brought about rapprochement are rendered helpless on their being arrayed as accused in the criminal case. There are many other reasons which need not be mentioned here for not encouraging matrimonial litigation so that the parties may ponder over their defaults and terminate their disputes amicably by mutual agreement instead of fighting it out in a Court of law where it takes years and years to conclude and in that process the parties lose their “young” days in chasing their “cases” in different Courts.”
In Rajeev Verma however relying on B.S. Joshi it was mentioned that whilst the trial could be quashed in an application under section 482 Cr.P.C or under Article 226, being a fruitless prosecution where there was little likelihood of conviction as the parties had settled their dispute, but the proper forum for deciding the matter whether the compromise application was voluntary and bona fide or whether it was coerced was the lower court which could decide whether it was a fit case for granting permission to the wife to compound the offence under section 320(2) Cr.P.C. This was only possible if the offence under s. 498-A IPC was made compoundable with the permission of the Court.
A good option for providing recompense to the maltreated woman is “The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005” which provides for a gamut of civil rights for the aggrieved woman who has entered into a domestic relationship with a man, with or without marriage. Such civil rights include “Protection orders” (section 18) prohibiting the respondent from committing any act of violence, visiting the place of work, operating the common bank locker, making telephonic contact etc. “Residence orders” (section 19), which restrain the respondent from dispossessing a woman from the shared household, or from alienating or renouncing his rights to the property or by directing him to remove himself, or by providing alternate accommodation to the aggrieved woman at the existing level. By providing “monetary reliefs” (sections 20 and 22) by paying for loss of earnings or medical expenses, or loss due to destruction of property by domestic violence, or for maintenance of the woman and her dependent children, or by payment of compensation for causing injuries (including mental torture). “Custody orders” (section 21) for custody of the child to the woman (including visiting rights) for the respondent. Criminal proceedings under this Act have been allowed only as a last resort, under section 31 when the respondent commits a breach of a protection order, or where at the stage of framing charges for breach of the protection order he finds that an offence under section 498-A IPC has also been committed by the respondent.
The Act also provides under section 14 for the Magistrate to send a matter for “counselling” before a registered “service provider,” who is qualified to provide counselling in such matters to the contesting parties or to provide shelter etc. to the aggrieved woman.
In the counter-affidavit dated 12.8.11 filed on behalf of the Home Secretary, U.P., it has specifically been mentioned that the State government has given its consent to the Union of India to make offences under section 498-A IPC compoundable, and the letter of the Home (Police) Section-9 to the Union Home Ministry dated 4.2.10 has been annexed. Whereas we appreciate this positive attitude of the State government in not objecting to section 498-A IPC being made a compoundable offence. However we find that Andhra Pradesh, by Act 11 of 2003 (w.e.f 1.8.03) has added section 498 A (wrongly described as 494 A) after section 494 in the table in section 320(2) Cr.P.C. and has permitted the woman subjected to cruelty to compound the offence with the permission of the Court, but added a proviso that a minimum period of three months be allowed to elapse from the date of application for compromise before a Court can accept the request, provided any of the parties do not withdraw in the intervening period. The U.P. government may consider bringing out a similar amendment, as it has already expressed its opinion that the offence under section 498-A IPC be made compoundable.
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