Registration of FIR Without Nexus Between Accused and Alleged Offence Violative of Article 21: Analysing Karnataka High Court’s Recent Judgement

Whilst Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which vests the High Courts with inherent powers, does not set down any specific rules or principles governing the exercise of such powers, courts have established the guiding principles to be applied by High Courts while exercising this power.

The golden thread that runs through the judicial pronouncements on the point is that High Courts can quash criminal proceedings in exercise of their powers under Section 482 if the allegations made in the FIR, even if taken at face value and accepted in their entirety, either (i) do not prima facie evidence any offence or make out a case against the accused, or (ii) a criminal proceeding is manifestly attended with mala fide intention, and/or (iii) where the proceeding is maliciously instituted with an ulterior motive for wreaking vengeance on the accused and with a view to spite him due to private and / or personal grudge (State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal 1992 AIR 604).

A recent judgement of the Karnataka High Court in Vipul Prakash Patil v. The State of Karnataka and Another (Criminal Petition No.104152 of 2022), decided on 30 May 2023, is significant in its application of these principles, inasmuch as it underscores that some material must exist to establish the involvement of a person in a criminal act, before an FIR can be registered against him and that registration of FIR in the absence of such materials amounts to abuse of process of law and, even, violation of rights under Article 21. The Court’s categorical ruling will serve to protect innocents against malicious complaints made with bald allegations and with a view to force the accused to settle claims or for other ulterior motives, and will curb registration of FIRs merely on ipse dixit of the complainant.

The Court was considering an application under Section 482 by a person accused of commission of offences under Sections 406 and 420 of the Indian Penal code, 1860 and Section 9 of the Karnataka Protection of Interest of Deposits in Financial Establishment Act, 2004.

The complaint resulting in the registration of FIR against, inter alia, the Petitioner before the High Court was that the Complainants were fraudulently induced by Pankaj Namdev Patil and Santosh Gangaram Ghodke along with the Petitioner to make an investment in Pinomic Ventures LLP. Whilst the complainants were able to produce material to show that Pankaj Namdev Patil and Santosh Gangaram Ghodke had received the monies, no proof was available to evidence involvement of the Petitioner in the alleged fraud.

It was argued on behalf of the Petitioner that since the complaint itself is silent on the role of the Petitioner in the alleged offence, the very registration of the FIR violates his personal liberty and is an abuse of process of law. The Respondent-State argued that whether the Petitioner is liable for the alleged fraud cannot be decided by the High Court having regard to the scope of Section 482 and it is for the investigating agency to investigate the same and submit a report.

The Court rejected the contention of the prosecution and held that in order to proceed against a person with criminal action, the complainant or the prosecution agency must make out a prima facie case to establish some nexus (even remote) between the accused and the alleged offence. If no such material is available, the very registration of case amounts to abuse of process and violates the right of the accused under Article 21.

The Court, in this context, observed that “no person shall be allowed to undergo ordeal of a criminal investigation unless there is some material which could connect the said person with the alleged crime”.

The judgment is important for clearly reiterating and emphasizing the need for police to satisfy themselves regarding availability of some material linking the accused with the offence, and also recognizing that registration of FIR de hors such material constitutes grievous infringement of fundamental rights and deserves to be quashed.

The Judgment can be accessed here.

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