Cheque bounce no offence against society, says HC - ECAS Punjab

Cheque bounce no offence against society, says HC

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Saurabh Malik

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, August 13

In a judgment that will change the way convicts in cheque bounce cases are sentenced, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has ruled that the offence was not against society and an accused could escape punishment by settling with the complainant.

Justice Sudhir Mittal of the High Court also asserted that the court could not lose sight of the fact that the offence of cheque bounce under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act was quasi criminal in nature. Section 147 of the Act made the offence compoundable, notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The assertion came in a case where the petitioner-accused was convicted and sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for two years. He was also directed to pay compensation equal to the cheque, amount along with 9 per cent per annum interest, from the date of cheque till the judgment date. Appeal against the judgment of conviction was dismissed leading to the filing of the revision petition before the High Court.

The petitioner's counsel, during the course of hearing, confined his prayer to reduction in the quantum of sentence. Describing the petitioner as a "poor person", the counsel added he had suffered a protracted trial of almost 10 years and undergone actual sentence of more than a year. The counsel for the complainant, Ranjit Singh Bajaj, on the other hand added the accused was not entitled to benefit merely because he had undergone a protracted trial. Bajaj added he deserved to undergo the complete sentence awarded by the trial court. Justice Mittal ruled sentencing was primarily a matter of discretion in the absence of statutory provisions governing the same. Even guidelines had not been laid down to assist the courts in this matter.

Justice Mittal asserted the sentence imposed must commensurate with the crime committed. It should also be in accordance with jurisprudential justifications, such as deterrence, retribution or restoration. Mitigating and aggravating circumstances were required to be kept in mind. Justice Mittal added the amended provisions revealed legislative intent of expediting the trial and making the sentence deterrent. "Provisions inserted for inculcating greater faith in banking transactions needed more teeth. It is, thus, apparent that deterrence and restoration are the principles to be kept in mind for sentencing," Justice Mittal ruled.



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