In criminal cases, there is a disturbing trend known as stifling prosecution, where the accused attempts to coerce or incentivize the victim to drop the charges and withdraw the complaint. This manipulative practice not only undermines the justice delivery system but also enables offenders to evade punishment for their crimes. In this article, we will delve into the nature of stifling prosecution, its legality, relevant provisions, and notable case laws.
Understanding Stifling Prosecution
1. Agreements for Stifling Prosecution
Agreements in which one party promises to pay consideration to another party in exchange for the latter’s agreement to forgo criminal charges are considered agreements for stifling prosecution. These agreements thwart justice by prematurely ending prosecution and impede the administration of justice. For instance, if party A agrees to sell their house to party B under the condition that B refrains from pressing criminal charges against A, such an agreement would amount to stifling prosecution.
2. Threats as Means of Stifling Prosecution
Another method employed to stifle prosecution is through threats directed towards the victims and witnesses. In the landmark case of Waryam Singh v. Sadhu Ram (1972), police officers were found guilty of threatening witnesses to impede the prosecution. The court ruled that regardless of the officers’ beliefs regarding the witnesses’ credibility, it was the court’s duty to ascertain the veracity of the testimony. Any attempts to influence witnesses through threats or coercion are considered stifling prosecution.
Legality of Stifling Prosecution
Stifling prosecution is categorically prohibited under Indian law, as it subverts the very essence of justice and undermines public welfare. Agreements solely designed to suppress criminal charges are deemed illegal, as they circumvent the judicial system and vest the power of justice in private individuals. Protection against criminal offenses cannot be waived or traded for monetary consideration.
Exceptions and Boundaries
1. Use of Strong Language
Mere use of strong words to recover an existing claim does not amount to stifling prosecution. In the case of Flower v. Saddler (1882), creditors threatened to initiate criminal proceedings against a debtor unless the outstanding dues were paid. The court held that creditors are entitled to use strong language to recover their dues, and choosing not to prosecute the debtor after receiving payment does not constitute stifling prosecution.
2. One-Sided Agreements
When an agreement between the accused and victim involves the accused offering consideration without a reciprocal promise to withdraw prosecution, the agreement is not invalidated based on the notion of stifling prosecution. As long as the accused hopes that the victim may refrain from prosecution in good faith, without any express promise to withhold prosecution, the agreement remains valid. The law does not control the compensating party’s hopes and expectations.
Legal Consideration and Public Policy
The Indian Contract Act, 1872, defines the circumstances under which consideration or the object of a contract is deemed unlawful. Section 23 stipulates that a consideration or object deemed against public policy is considered unlawful. Agreements for stifling prosecution fall within this purview and are deemed void due to their contradictory nature with public welfare. It is imperative that offenders be punished for the crimes committed, and suppressing criminal charges through agreements undermines this fundamental principle.
Notable Case Laws
1. Suresh Ganpati v. State of Maharashtra (2017)
The Bombay High Court ruled that compromise between parties can only be grounds for acquittal in compoundable offenses. Attempting to compound a non-compoundable offense would invoke the doctrine of stifling prosecution.
2. Ouseph Poulo v. Catholic Union Bank Limited (1964)
In this Supreme Court case, an agreement between the accused and complainant, seeking the accused’s payment in exchange for the complainant’s promise not to prosecute, was held against public policy.
3. Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India (1991)
The Supreme Court addressed stifling prosecution in a case involving a gas tragedy in Bhopal. The court concluded that the settlement offer of monetary compensation did not attract the doctrine of stifling prosecution as the Union of India did not coerce the Union Carbide Corporation into the agreement.
Stifling prosecution poses a significant threat to the justice system, as it allows perpetrators to evade accountability for their actions. Agreements designed to suppress criminal charges and the use of threats to impede prosecution are considered illegal and against public policy. Upholding the integrity of the judicial process and ensuring that offenders face appropriate consequences for their crimes is essential for a just and fair society.