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Punjab & Haryana HC Issues Guidelines to Curb Unjust Criminalization of Civil Disputes

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Published on: December 03, 2023 at 12:50 IST

The Punjab & Haryana High Court has issued guidelines against the unjust conversion of civil disputes into criminal cases, addressing the widespread misuse of the law.

Justice Harpreet Singh Brar highlighted the need to safeguard citizens from unnecessary criminal prosecution arising from the conversion of civil matters.

The court laid down directives for trial courts, emphasizing that if a dispute is purely civil or lacks the elements of fraudulent intent or mechanical filing of FIRs, appropriate actions under Chapter XI of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) should be initiated. This chapter deals with offenses related to false evidence and offenses against public justice, including Section 211 IPC that penalizes filing a false charge with intent to cause harm.

The case prompting these guidelines involved a disagreement over a land sale agreement. The petitioners argued that the allegations leading to the FIR under Sections 420 and 120-B IPC were based on a civil dispute and lacked criminal intent. The court concurred, stating that the essence of the issue was a civil agreement, not a criminal offense.

Highlighting the absence of evidence indicating fraudulent intent and considering the existence of a pending civil suit, the court deemed the criminal proceedings unsustainable and referenced Supreme Court decisions to support its stance. It stressed that criminal prosecution should not arise solely from a breach of contract unless fraudulent or dishonest intent is evident from the start.

Justice Brar condemned the trend of converting civil disputes into criminal cases, attributing it to pressures on investigating agencies and incorrect legal opinions.

The court emphasized that such conversions often aim to expedite settlements, condemning the misuse of legal procedures for malicious and oppressive prosecutions.

Citing precedents and urging a curb on the criminalization of civil disputes, the High Court quashed the FIR and directed the distribution of its judgment to subordinate courts for awareness and compliance.