There are times when Shylock does not want his pound of flesh, this may happen in a world where Shylock and Antonio enter into a compromise, settle their lis and Shylock makes a conscious decision to not pursue his day in Court. An analogous situation is comprehended by Section 320 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 ("Code") which provides for compounding of offences.

Compoundable offences are those offences where, the complainant picks up the thrown gauntlet and enters into a compromise and agrees to have the charges dropped against the accused. However, the cardinal caveat is that such a compromise ought to be visited with "bonafides" and cannot stem ought of illegal benefits to which the complainant is not entitled to.

The Code vide Section 320 contemplates compounding of certain offences enumerated in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 ("IPC"). Compounding of offences has legislatively been bifurcated in two broad categories i.e. compounding of offences without the permission of the Court and compounding of offences with the permission of the Court. The offences that dispense with the blessings of the Court are of comparatively diminished magnitude such as offences under Sections 298,491,500,501 etc. of the IPC. The offences that require the strike of the gavel are offences such as Sections 325,406,420,494 etc. of the IPC.

The modus operandi with regard to the procedure of compounding offences is fairly well delineated. The edict of Section 320 provides for and states that the offences punishable under the sections of the IPC specified in the first two columns of the table appended thereto may be compounded by the persons mentioned in the third column of the said table.  A look at the said third column would dispel the dilettante notion that such an application for composition of the offence would be moved at the behest of the accused who, one would assume, would hurry to rid himself of the charges pending against him. The third column vests the power of composition of the offence with the victim of the offence i.e. the complainant of the case.

Certain other determinants that augur well with the process of compounding an offence are legislatively spelt out in the Section 320 of the Code which also states that once an offence is compounded the mold in which the proceeding shall rest will that be of an acquittal for the offence alleged.

What the present paper attempts to discuss is one common procedural oversight that plagues applications for compounding of an offence filed by litigants across the country. In mostly all applications that the Court is seized of, which pertain to compounding of an offence, the memo of parties reflects the accused as party to the composition application. What appears, on first blush, to be a quotidian procedure, inviting no legal hinderance, can in fact prove to be an unnecessary practice that clearly was not intended by the Legislature. 

A detailed perusal of the mandate of Section 320 of the Code clearly brings to light the fact that in essence a composition proceeding is a proceeding between the Court and the person seeking the composition. The scheme of Section 320 contemplates a scenario, wherein the complainant and the accused have settled their differences outside the confines of the Court House and arrived at a merry situation wherein the person who was the victim of the offence alleged finds himself in a salubrious state and does not wish to prosecute any further. Pursuant to this, the said person approaches the Court and prays for the benevolence of the Court by seeking an order that allows the compounding of the offence(s) in question. The very fact that Section 320 of the Code provides for a detailed and laborious table that stipulates on whose instance the offence may be compounded goes to evince that the accused clearly has no further role to play in the proceedings and the matter stands between the Court and the victim of the offence. Perhaps, this entire situation is a befitting ode to "res ipsa loquitur", the fact that this extensive table finds itself a coveted place in the statute book serves as the pole star for the fact that the legislature intended the composition proceedings to be imitated and prosecuted by the victim of the offence solely. Not only has the legislature denuded the accused of any such power but the entire scheme of the Code does not envisage the accused to be made a party to such proceedings. Thus, the role of an accused is thus in short supply, all that he needs to do is fortuitously settle his lis with the complainant/victim.

Inviting attention back to the possible hindrances that could be arise in cases where the accused is made a party to the proceedings of compounding an offence is that where the accused resides outside the jurisdiction of the Court, there is statutorily no requirement for him to incur expenses to come and appear in the compounding proceedings. The common practice of featuring the accused in the memo of parties is a dispensable step which when dispensed with not only would expedite the Court proceedings but would also be in consonance with the intention of the legislature.  

The effect of compounding of an offence is fundamentally a withdrawal of the charges pressed against the accused. Let us extend this analogy further, all other proceedings such as withdrawal of a suit, withdrawal of a Special Leave Petition, withdrawal of an application, do not contemplate the other party being made part of the withdrawal proceedings and the withdrawal is proceeded with simplicitor. The said practice is not only unnecessary given that the statutory scheme but is also an inconvenience to the accused who in manner of speaking "has paid all his debts".

This makes one question this redundant practice of arraigning the accused as a party in compounding proceedings, after all, Antonio would not contest Shylock letting go of his pound of flesh.

Thus, what is attempted to be discussed here is that whilst arraigning the accused(s) in the memo of parties may not be fundamentally against the letter of the statute and may not necessarily hinder the proceedings, it is nothing more than a rather casual and ignorant understanding of the scope of Section 320 and is an pedantic additional step that in various cases would assume the role of an unnecessary inconvenience. An accused is clearly not a necessary party to composition proceedings and a Court ought to be and is bound by an application moved by the Complainant/Victim stating that he or she wishes to compound an offence and that the case may be allowed to meet its demise with the exception of the situations wherein the Court is of the view that such permission ought to be refused. The proceeding when viewed through the legislative prism, is solely between the Complainant/Victim and the Court.

The importance of reading and interpreting statutes holistically cannot be overstated and on each such occasion where the accused is made a party to such a proceeding, it erodes, even benignly so, the intention with which Section 320 was put on the statute book.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.