A Bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justice Surya Kant held that, "As opposed to Section 320 Cr.P.C. where the Court is squarely guided by the compromise between the parties in respect of offences 'compoundable' within the statutory framework, the extraordinary power enjoined upon a High Court under Section 482 Cr.P.C. or vested in this Court under Article 142 of the Constitution, can be invoked beyond the metes and bounds of Section 320 Cr.P.C.."

Nonetheless, the Bench added, "We reiterate that such powers of wide amplitude ought to be exercised carefully in the context of quashing criminal proceedings, bearing in mind: (i) Nature and effect of the offence on the conscious of the society; (ii) Seriousness of the injury, if any; (iii) Voluntary nature of compromise between the accused and the victim; & (iv) Conduct of the accused persons, prior to and after the occurrence of the purported offence and/or other relevant considerations."

Section 320 of the Criminal Procedure Code deals with the compounding of certain offences by the Court.

The Bench outlined the scope of exercising power under section 482 by the High Court while deciding two appeals filed against the orders of Gwalior Bench of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh and the High Court of Karnataka refusing to quash conviction pronounced by the respective Trial Courts under section 326 (Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons), since the offence is non-compoundable.

A Criminal Court can't compound non-compoundable offences under Section 320 of Cr.PC and framework under Section 320 is not an embargo for High Court using inherent powers under section 482 of the Cr.P.C., the Bench stated

"True it is that offences which are 'non-compoundable' cannot be compounded by a criminal court in purported exercise of its powers under Section 320 Cr.P.C. Any such attempt by the court would amount to alteration, addition and modification of Section 320 Cr.P.C, which is the exclusive domain of Legislature. There is no patent or latent ambiguity in the language of Section 320 Cr.P.C., which may justify its wider interpretation and include such offences in the docket of 'compoundable' offences which have been consciously kept out as non-compoundable. Nevertheless, the limited jurisdiction to compound an offence within the framework of Section 320 Cr.P.C. is not an embargo against invoking inherent powers by the High Court vested in it under Section 482 Cr.P.C. The High Court, keeping in view the peculiar facts and circumstances of a case and for justifiable reasons can press Section 482 Cr.P.C. in aid to prevent abuse of the process of any Court and/or to secure the ends of justice."

The High Court can use the powers even if offences are non-compoundable but should not paralyze object of administration of the criminal justice system, the Bench commented

"The High Court, therefore, having regard to the nature of the offence and the fact that parties have amicably settled their dispute and the victim has willingly consented to the nullification of criminal proceedings, can quash such proceedings in exercise of its inherent powers under Section 482 Cr.P.C., even if the offences are non-compoundable. The High Court can indubitably evaluate the consequential effects of the offence beyond the body of an individual and thereafter adopt a pragmatic approach, to ensure that the felony, even if goes unpunished, does not tinker with or paralyze the very object of the administration of the criminal justice system."

The Bench observed that handing out punishment is not the sole form of delivering justice

"It appears to us that criminal proceedings involving non-heinous offences or where the offences are predominantly of a private nature, can be annulled irrespective of the fact that trial has already been concluded or appeal stands dismissed against conviction. Handing out punishment is not the sole form of delivering justice. Societal method of applying laws evenly is always subject to lawful exceptions. It goes without saying, that the cases where compromise is struck post-conviction the High Court ought to exercise such discretion with rectitude, keeping in view the circumstances surrounding the incident, the fashion in which the compromise has been arrived at, and with due regard to the nature and seriousness of the offence, besides the conduct of the accused, before and after the incidence."

It further added

"The touchstone for exercising the extraordinary power under Section 482 Cr.P.C. would be to secure the ends of justice. There can be no hard and fast line constricting the power of the High Court to do substantial justice. A restrictive construction of inherent powers under Section 482 Cr.P.C. may lead to rigid or specious justice, which in the given facts and circumstances of a case, may rather lead to grave injustice. On the other hand, in cases where heinous offences have been proved against perpetrators, no such benefit ought to be extended."

The Bench further pointed out that the impact on the society at large be seen while exercising the power

"In other words, grave or serious offences or offences which involve moral turpitude or have a harmful effect on the social and moral fabric of the society or involve matters concerning public policy, cannot be construed betwixt two individuals or groups only, for such offences have the potential to impact the society at large. Effacing abominable offences through the quashing process would not only send a wrong signal to the community but may also accord an undue benefit to unscrupulous habitual or professional offenders, who can secure a 'settlement' through duress, threats, social boycotts, bribes or other dubious means. It is well said that "let no guilty man escape, if it can be avoided."

Regarding scopious powers in quashing criminal proceedings, the Bench noted,

"It is now a well crystalized axiom that the plenary jurisdiction of this Court to impart complete justice under Article 142 cannot ipso facto be limited or restricted by ordinary statutory provisions. It is also noteworthy that even in the absence of an express provision akin to Section 482 Cr.P.C. conferring powers on the Supreme Court to abrogate and set aside criminal proceedings, the jurisdiction exercisable under Article 142 of the Constitution embraces this Court with scopious powers to quash criminal proceedings also, so as to secure complete justice. In doing so, due regard must be given to the overarching objective of sentencing in the criminal justice system, which is grounded on the sublime philosophy of maintenance of peace of the collective and that the rationale of placing an individual behind bars is aimed at his reformation."

Case Title - Ramgopal and Others Vs. State of Madhya Pradesh