On August 2, 2022, the Supreme Court in the case of, Siddharth Mukesh Bhandari v. The State of Gujarat, has held that courts cannot pass an order granting stay of an investigation and/ or pass any interim relief while exercising powers under Section 482 of the Code of the Criminal Procedure, 1973 (“Cr.P.C.”), after passing a detailed and a reasoned order. The courts can only pass such orders only in rarest of rare cases, as laid down by the Supreme Court in the case of Messrs. Neeharika Infrastructure Private Limited v. State of Maharashtra.
The Gujarat High Court, vide its order dated February 14, 2022 (“Impugned Order”), admitted the criminal applications filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India read with Section 482 of Cr.P.C., being Special Criminal Application Nos. 9112 of 2019, 9111 of 2019 and 9475 of 2019 (“Applications”) and granted interim relief and stay the proceedings of respective criminal inquiry cases.
Originally, the Applications were filed before the Court on October 1, 2019. The Court passed an ex-parte ad-interim order dated October 10, 2019, directing therein that no coercive steps are to be taken against the accused. The Order dated October 10, 2019 was challenged before the Supreme Court by way of special leave petitions. These petitions were disposed off by a detailed Judgment dated December 13, 2021 in Neeharika (supra).
The law laid down in Neeharika (supra):
The Supreme Court has held, amongst other things, that an investigation will not be continued to be permitted in cases, where no cognizable offence or offence of any kind is disclosed in the First Information Report (“F.I.R.”). It has been further held that the power of quashing is to be exercised sparingly in the ‘rarest of rare’ category, as the power to quash an F.I.R. is an exception. Pertinently, the Courts are only required to consider the allegations in the F.I.R., if the same discloses commission of cognizable offence, as the Courts are not required to consider the merits of the dispute. The resort for an accused is to apply for an anticipatory bail and resultantly, the Courts are to refrain from passing interim order of not to arrest or no coercive steps to be adopted. The Courts are under a bounden duty to give brief reasons, if an exceptional case is made out for grant of stay of further investigation.
Decision of the Court:
The Supreme Court observed that vide the Impugned Order, the Court has granted the very same relief, which it proceeded to pass on October 10, 2019, inspite of the law laid down in Neeharika (supra). The Supreme Court reiterated that the stay of investigation and/ or any interim relief can only be granted in rarest of rare cases. It further held that such an order cannot be passed solely on the strength of the same being a detailed and a reasoned order. The right of the investigating officer was also emphasized, which was iterated in Neeharika (supra). The Supreme Court held that the High Courts cannot grant relief of stay of investigation and/ or any interim relief merely by passing a reasoned order, which was also a condition precedent in Neeharika (supra) in addition to other requirements. The High Courts are required to grant relief only in rarest of rare cases after passing a reasoned order. The Court also observed that the Impugned Order does not fall under the rarest of rare cases albeit a reasoned Order was passed by the High Court. As a result, the Impugned Order was set aside and the interim protection granted to the accused was vacated.
Please find attached a copy of the order.
This update has been contributed by Namitha Mathews (Partner) and Pulkit Malhotra (Associate).
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