The Himachal Pradesh High Court recently quashed an FIR filed against a lawyer for participating in a protest (Anu Tuli Azta v. State of Himachal Pradesh).
While doing so, the Court held:
“Holding peaceful processions, raising slogans, would not be and cannot be an offence under India’s Constitution.”
Justice Anoop Chitkara passed the order while dealing with a petition filed by a lawyer seeking quashing of an FIR filed against her for the offences of wrongful restraint, forming unlawful assembly, rioting, indulging in criminal force to deter public servants from discharging their duties, intentional insult to breach the peace, and criminal intimidation.
It was alleged by the petitioner that the FIR was filed by the police after lawyers protested peacefully at the High Court premises. The lawyers were protesting against the restriction on entry to the District Court Complex at Shimla from a shorter route, forcing them to take a longer way, resulting in delay in attending court.
On the contrary, the Additional Advocate General appearing for the State contended that the petitioner cannot rely on a judgment where the Court had quashed a similar FIR filed against the co-accused, pertaining to the same incident.
It was also claimed that the lawyers, including the petitioner, indulged in hurling abuses and assaulting police personnel, as well as threatening to burn down a police station.
The Court, however, noted that the FIR nowhere mentions the role of the petitioner.
“Even if this Court presumes the petitioner present at the spot, it would still not lead to an automatic inference of her acting with a common object with those who had inflicted fist blows, hurled abuses, and threatened the SHO, and also threatened to burn the Police Station.”
Mere presence at the spot in the demonstration would not invite criminal act in the facts and nature of allegations made in the present FIR, the Court added.
On the power of the Court to quash FIRs, Justice Chitkara referred to a number of apex court judgments to conclude,
“The law is almost settled by larger benches judgments of Supreme Court that the offences, those are not listed as compoundable, under Section 320 CrPC, can also be compounded, and the procedure to follow would be by quashing the FIR, and consequent proceedings.”
The Court further found that there was no evidence which attracts the offences named in the FIR. Noting that the police had wrongly named and arraigned the petitioner as an accused, the Court held the filing of the FIR to be a a gross abuse of the process of law.
“If proceedings are allowed to be continued, it shall amount to the miscarriage of Justice.”
While allowing the petition, the Court quashed the FIR using its powers under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, and all the consequential proceedings against the petitioner were also set aside.