Sunday, 1 October 2017

No Arrest in Dowry Case - Guidelines to prevent Misuse of 498A

On 27 July 2017, Thursday, acknowledging a growing trend among women involved in marital discord to abuse Section 498A of IPC to rope in their husbands' relatives (including parents, minor children, siblings and grandparents) in criminal cases, the bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit said it was high time such frivolous cases which violated the human rights of innocent was checked. The court broke away from the reigning perception to rule that in dowry cases, the account of the alleged victim need not be taken at face value.

Key Highlights:

  1. Supreme Court verdict on Section 498A puts family honour over women's rights.
  2. No Automatic Arrest in 498-A Cases, SC Issues Strict guidelines to Police and Magistrates, Non Compliance will Attract Disciplinary & Contempt Proceedings.
  3. If a bail application is filed with at least one clear day’s notice to the Public Prosecutor/complainant, the same may be decided as far as possible on the same day. Recovery of disputed dowry items may not by itself be a ground for denial of bail if maintenance or other rights of wife/minor children can otherwise be protected.
  4. The court directed setting up of a family welfare committee in each district to examine authenticity of dowry harassment complaints.
  5. The bench made it clear that its direction would not be applicable in cases of tangible injury and death.

Detailed Report:

Undercutting the innocence law enforcement agencies had so far assigned to complainants in dowry harassment cases, the Supreme Court on Thursday directed all states to set up family welfare committee (FWC) in each district and tasked them with testing the veracity of every complaint.

"It is a matter of serious concern that large number of cases continue to be filed under Section 498A alleging harassment of married women", the SC said.

Many such complaints are not bona fide. At the time of filing of the complaint, implications and consequences are not visualised. At times, such complaints lead to uncalled for harassment not only to the accused but also to the complainant. Uncalled for arrest may ruin the chances of settlement," the bench said.

"We are conscious of the object for which the provision was brought into the statute. At the same time, violation of human rights of innocent cannot be brushed aside", the Court said.

After considering the submissions of ASG A.S. Nadkarni, and Senior Advocate V. Giri, the Court has issued the following directions:
  • In every district one or more Family Welfare Committees be constituted by the District Legal Services Authorities preferably comprising of three members. The constitution and working of such committees may be reviewed from time to time and at least once in a year by the District and Sessions Judge of the district who is also the Chairman of the District Legal Services Authority.
  • The Committees may be constituted out of para legal volunteers/social workers/retired persons/wives of working officers/other citizens who may be found suitable and willing.
  • The Committee members will not be called as witnesses.
  • Every complaint under Section 498A received by the police or the Magistrate be referred to and looked into by such committee. Such committee may have interaction with the parties personally or by means of telephone or any other mode of communication including electronic communication.
  • Report of such committee be given to the Authority by whom the complaint is referred to it latest within one month from the date of receipt of complaint.
  • The committee may give its brief report about the factual aspects and its opinion in the matter.
  • Till report of the committee is received, no arrest should normally be effected.
  • The report may be then considered by the Investigating Officer or the Magistrate on its own merit.
  • Members of the committee may be given such basic minimum training as may be considered necessary by the Legal Services Authority from time to time.
  • The Members of the committee may be given such honorarium as may be considered viable.
  • It will be open to the District and Sessions Judge to utilize the cost fund wherever considered necessary and proper.

Full Judgment of the Supreme Court:

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