New Delhi: Courts cannot shut rape and murder cases even if victims or families of the victims agree to settle disputes with the accused, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.
Economic fraud having ramifications on State's economy, the Court added, cannot be closed.
A bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra circumscribed the powers of high courts in quashing the FIRs in grave cases such as rape, murder, dacoity etc, holding larger public interest would weigh more than the individuals' inclination to continue prosecution of the accused.
"Heinous and serious offences involving mental depravity or cases such as murder, rape and dacoity cannot appropriately be quashed though the victim or the family of the victim have settled the dispute. Such offences are, truly speaking, not private in nature but have a serious impact upon society," stated the judgment, authored by Justice DY Chandrachud.
The judge underscored that the "decision to continue with the trial in such cases is founded on the overriding element of public interest in punishing persons for serious offences".
Explaining the powers of high courts under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the bench noted that while dealing with a plea that the dispute has been settled, the high court must have due regard to the nature and gravity of the offence.
The bench also spoke about another class of offences that should not be closed.
"Economic offences involving the financial and economic well-being of the state have implications which lie beyond the domain of a mere dispute between private disputants," it said.
The apex court added a high court would be justified in declining to quash where the offender is involved in an activity akin to a financial or economic fraud or misdemeanour.
The Court said that criminal cases involving offences which arise from commercial, financial, mercantile, partnership or similar transactions with an essentially civil flavour may in appropriate situations fall for quashing where parties have settled the dispute.
The ruling came as the bench dealt with a set of appeals by accused in a case of forgery and cheating through an organised gang. The Court upheld the Gujarat HC order of refusing to quash the FIR despite settlement with the complainants after saying such offences "implicate the societal interest in prosecuting serious crime."