Chandigarh: The Punjab and Haryana high court has held that a mere breach of contract or agreement, in absence of a dishonest intention from the beginning of the transaction, cannot give rise to criminal proceedings.
“Unless and until the dishonest intention is present right at the beginning for the performance or entrustment in terms of any transaction of civil nature, the criminal proceedings are totally unwarranted, and the remedy lies in civil law,” held Justice Harpreet Singh Brar, who passed these orders while hearing a plea filed by Charanjit Sharma and another.
The court observed that the misuse of criminal law machinery for settling civil disputes had become menacingly prevalent. “The investigating agency often succumbs to pressures and motives to launch prosecution at the behest of disgruntled litigants and mechanically registers FIRs and the concerned district attorney often provides incorrect legal opinion. A predominantly civil dispute is given criminal contours to provide an expeditious mechanism to pressurise the other party into a settlement,” observed the judge.
The petitioners in this case had approached the HC to quash an FIR dated November 30, 2016, registered for cheating and related charges at Dhuri Sadar police station in Punjab’s Sangrur district.
The genesis of the dispute was an agreement to sell, dated December 4, 2015, where the allegation was that the petitioner took Rs 25 lakh as earnest money in pursuance of an agreement to sell his land to the complainant, but did not come forward for its registration as per the fixed target date on May 20, 2016. The court noticed the complainant had already filed a civil suit for specific performance against the petitioners.
Observing it was a case of misuse of legal machinery to launch malicious and oppressive prosecution by converting a purely civil dispute into a criminal offence, the HC ordered quashing of the FIR registered against the petitioners.
The court has also issued certain instructions to protect citizens from vexatious and unwanted criminal prosecution. “In case the trial court, after conclusion of the trial, finds the dispute involved between the parties is purely civil in nature and the remedy lies in civil law or the basic ingredients of fraudulent intention of cheating from the very beginning is missing and the FIR in question is lodged in a mechanical manner, the trial court should initiate proceedings under IPC,” the HC observed, while directing the registry of the HC to circulate the copy of the order to subordinate courts.