Supreme Court scraps no arrest rule under 498A, says earlier verdict fell in ‘legislative sphere’

Modifying the provisions of the anti-dowry laws it had made in a verdict last year, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India has set aside its recommendation for setting up of a “family welfare committee” to look into allegations before arrests are made asserting that there isn’t any scope for courts to constitutionally fill up gaps in penal law. Taking note of the misuse of section 498A, the Court said that the accused can now seek anticipatory bail.

The bench, comprising of CJI Dipak Mishra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said that they were of the opinion that the earlier verdict fell in the legislative sphere and it should be left to the Parliament to come up with safeguards against the misuse of the law. “At this stage, we are obligated to state that we are not in agreement with the decision rendered in Rajesh Sharma vs State of UP, because we are disposed to think that it really curtails the rights of the women who are harassed under Section 498A (subjecting a married woman to cruelty) of the Indian Penal Code. That apart, prima facie, we perceive that the guidelines may be in the legislative sphere”, the bench remarked while disagreeing with the earlier verdict.

“There is an introduction of a third agency which has nothing to do with the code and that apart, the committees have been empowered to suggest a report failing which no arrest can be made. The directions to settle a case after it is registered is not a correct expression of law,” the SC has said.

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The Court observed, “The courts have ample power to grant pre-arrest bail or popularly called anticipatory bail and even to quash the criminal proceeding totally to stabilise the lawful balance because no court of law remotely conceives of a war between the two sexes.” It also made the observations that “When a sensitive legal provision is brought into the statute book, the victims of the crime feel adequately safe, and if the said provision pertains to matrimonial sphere, both the parties, namely, wife and husband or anyone from the side of the husband is booked for the offence and both the sides play the victim card.”

“There should be gender justice for women as dowry has a chilling effect on marriage on the one hand and on the other, there is the right to life and personal liberty of the man,” the bench had said on the 23rd of April while reserving its verdict on a batch of pleas seeking revisiting of the earlier judgment.

The SC has also directed the DGPs of all states to ensure that “investigating officers who are in charge of the investigation of cases of offences under Section 498A IPC should be imparted rigorous training with regard to the principles stated by this Court relating to arrest.”

The Court also remarked that the misuse of section 498A could have grievous implications for the health of the society. “Such a situation brings in a social disaster that has the potentiality to vertically divide the society,” it said.

The copy of the judgement can be accessed here.

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