Abuse of process of law by filing frivolous and vexatious litigation
On multiple occasions, the Indian Judiciary is discoursed as an overburdened institution in lieu of the ever-rising number of lis pending before the courts. Frivolous or vexatious litigation plays a huge role in justifying such deliberation. The courts themselves have recognized how parties file applications with no serious purpose or value and without sufficient grounds to either delay the proceedings or take advantage of a provision and how this leads to the abuse of the process of law. On March 8, 2021, the Supreme Court in Krishna Lal Chawla and Others vs. State of U.P. and Another (2021 SCC OnLine SC 191) addressed a similar concern.
1. In Krishna Lal Chawla and Others vs. State of U.P.and Another,the parties were neighbours and at loggerheads since 2006. Both parties filed complaints against each other alleging and counter-alleging offences in the nature of violence and threat.
2. Series of litigation were contested and thereafter, settled between the parties.
3. In 2012 again, the parties filed complaints alleging similar offences.
4. In 2017, the appellants sought to have the complaint filed in 2012 to be investigated. Permission to such effect was granted by the Magistrate.
5. Subsequently, the Respondent no. 2 instituted a fresh private complaint against the same incident that occurred in 2012, complaint in relation to which was already filed by the appellants.
6. The respondent also included details of other disputes between the parties which had occurred in 2006 and were already adjudicated and settled. It held no relevance to the present complaint.
7. The present appeal before the Supreme Court was filed challenging the High Court’s order wherein order of summons issued by the Magistrate in relation to the abovementioned private complaint and the order of the Sessions Judge confirming the summons issued were upheld.
8. The grievance in relation to such orders was that the complaint was vexatious in nature and the court must have not taken cognizance of such complaint.
1. The Respondent no. 2 had placed reliance on the decision of Upkar Singh vs. Ved Prakash [(2004) 13 SCC 292] which held that filing a complaint in respect of the same incident was permissible if it is filed as a counter-complaint.
2. The court found that the facts of this case were in fact contrary to the case dealt with in Upkar Singh since that decision had clarified that further complaint in relation to the same incident against the same accused was prohibited under Section 162 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
3. The court relied on Amitbhai Anilchandra Shah vs. CBI [(2013) 6 SCC 348] which had made similar observations as above and went on to hold that such complaints violate Article 21 of the Constitution.
4. Both Upkar Singh and Amitbhai relied on T.T. Antony vs. State of Kerala [(2001) 6 SCC 181] to reach the above conclusions. T.T. Antony had made a specific observation that subjecting a citizen to fresh investigation each time in respect of the same incident would stir an imbalance between the fundamental right of the citizen and extensive power of police investigation.
5. It was observed that continuous and repetitive complaints hamper the right of speedy trial of a litigant and further that “the sword of Damocles cannot be allowed to forever hang on their heads, falling unpredictably at the whims of a litigant seeking to harass and persecute at will.
”6. The court also relied on Subrata Roy Sahara vs. Union on India [(2014) 8 SCC 470] which recognized the plight of aninnocent party who is stuck in a cobweb of frivolous litigation of an irresponsible and senseless claim.
7. In relation to the responsibility of the lower judiciary in curtailing such abuse, the court observed that on receipt of a complaint, the magistrate must ponder over the possibility of an instance of frivolous litigation. This would be a crucial step towards formation of a more efficient justice system aiming at reduction in backlog of cases.
In consideration of the observations discussed above, the Supreme Court held:a. Multiple complaints against the same incident would leave the accused entangled in numerous proceedings which would be a compromise of their personal liberties;b. The court has a duty to reach a balance between the proper investigation of offences and the fundamental rights of individuals to be free from repetitive prosecutions;c. Detailed observations must be utilised to ensure that frivolous litigations do not become common business or state of affairs in India;d. The Trial Judge must perform the duty of identifying and disposing the frivolous complaints at an early stage itself;e. The fresh complaint by the Respondent no. 2 was filed with an intent to mislead the Magistrate and harass the Appellants. This was certain due to the history of ill-will and disputes between the parties;f. Exercising the powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, all litigations between the parties arising out of the said incident were quashed.
The judicial history onabuse of process of law
1. An abuse of the process of law by a party is an unjustified and improper action for misuse of a court process or legal proceedings to have an unjust advantage over the other party to litigation.
2. The courts have on multiple occasions, expressed grave intolerance towards frivolous and vexatious proceedings.
a. In CBI vs. A. Ravishankar Prasad [(2009) 6 SCC 351],the Supreme Court provided that the inherent powers of the High Court under section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure may well be exercised to prevent abuse of the process of the court.
b. Similarly, in Kamal Shivaji Pokarnekar vs. State of Maharashtra [(2019) 14 SCC 350], it was held that criminal proceedings may be quashed when the complaint is frivolous, vexatious or oppressive.
c. In Puttalakshmi vs. State of Karnataka (2018) SCC OnLine Kar 1820) the Court observed that when a litigation was held to be abuse of the process of court, the continuance of such proceedings would amount to failure of ends of justice.
d. The Bombay High Court quashed proceedings in Chandrahas Jagatnarayan Choube vs. State of Maharashtra (2018 SCC OnLine Bom 5574) on the ground of abuse of process of law. It was held that initiating eleven applications against the relatives of the husband in a case of domestic violence when there were no specific allegations against such relatives was an abuse of the process of court.
3. European Courts have also acknowledged that improper use of a court process is an abuse of the legal procedure. Decision to such effect may be found in various judgments including in Attorney General vs. Barker (2000 EWHC 453)
The courts have taken strict view of the unacceptable commotion arising out of frivolous litigation and leading to the abuse of the process of law. Vexatious challenges lead to prolongation of litigation and delay in imparting justice. It is common legal principle that delayed justice is as good as injustice and hence every attempt should be made to avoid frivolous litigation and protect the sanctity of the judiciary and judicial process. It must also be ensured that the parties instituting false complaints do not succeed in achieving their mischievous ends.