The legal system is meant to provide justice to every individual and not to harass them. If any legal provision is an impediment in providing justice, it must be struck down or re-interpretated in order to provide complete justice to the victims. However, the continuing abuse of Indian criminal justice system had called interventionist approach from the Apex Court of the Country. It has been observed that in recent times multiple FIRs have been lodged against an individual by different people in different parts of the Country especially in the matter connected with comments/ remarks against a group or ideology or organisation. The question is whether this trend of harassment by making the accused run from one State to another and from one Court to another is to be countered seriously and whether it’s the right time to develop a mechanism to control and check this issue of multiplicity for same or identical offence.
As we all know that social media has replaced the traditional form of information sharing because it is the fastest way to disseminate information with wide range coverage across the globe. In past we had witnessed several instances wherein multiple FIRs have been lodged against an individual for the same offence and the same are discussed herein for considering the need of a mechanism to control such harassment. In April, 2020 a FIR was lodged against the owner-editor of Republic Bharat Channel for a broadcast. The first complaint was filed on 21st April, 2020 in Chhattisgarh. However, thereafter, complaints were made in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Jharkhand and in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir. The accused in these complaints approach the Supreme Court of India to quash these multiple FIRs. The Supreme Court noted that the language, content and sequencing of paras in these complaints are identical. The Supreme Court decided to transfer one of the FIR filed on 22nd April, 2020 in Nagpur to Mumbai, where the owner of the channel ordinarily resides. The Supreme Court quashed the remaining FIRs on the ground that multiple FIRs cannot be filed in respect of the same incident.
In another case of TV anchor, Amish Devgan, several FIRs were lodged against him in state of Rajasthan, Telangana, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh for hosting a program on 15th June, 2020. The first FIR was filed in Ajmer, Rajasthan. He approached the Supreme Court challenging the FIRs and alternatively praying to club these FIRs and transfer to Ajmer where the first FIR was filed. The Supreme Court allowed the prayer to transfer the FIR to Ajmer. Similarly, Maharashtra Police registered 10 FIRs against Union Minister Narayan Rane in connection with his comments on the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. But whether the Police can arrest him several times for same offence? As per Indian legal system, a person cannot be arrested or face trial for the same offence as it is barred under Article 20 (2) of the Indian Constitution. The Delhi High Court had recently held that the Police cannot lodge five FIRs for same incident in a matter related to offence of looting and fire in a compound during the Delhi riots in the year 2020. The High Courts of Telangana, Karnataka has also taken the similar views that multiple FIRs on same incident is not permissible. Although if we search the legal pronouncement made by the Supreme Court in this context, we will find that the Supreme Court had allowed the investigation in multiple FIRs if there are rival versions in FIRs with respect to same incident. Further, the Supreme Court in case of Upkar Singh V. Ved Prakash (2004) 13 SCC 292 has held that filing of second complaint is not barred if the same is filed as a counter complaint. The possibility of filing a second FIR is based on the facts and circumstances of the incident. The Courts have explained and applied the ‘Sameness Test’ in cases of second FIR by saying that improved version of the same offence cannot be a ground for second FIR but rival version of same incident in multiple FIRs can be permitted. To find out the sameness of incidents the Court has to look into the relationship of the incidents with each other or transactions of occurrence.
In nut shell, there is no mechanism to determine the issue of multiplicity of FIRs except the intervention of the Higher Courts which is very unfortunate for our criminal legal system. The Supreme Court has time and again expressed its views that Centre must come out with some solutions and very recently the Supreme Court in case of Radhey Shyam V. State of Haryana WP(Crl.) No.75 of 2020 has suggested to establish a mechanism similar to the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation set up in the USA. The Supreme Court has asked the Centre Government to respond proposing solutions to tackle the issue of multiplicity. The mechanism suggested by the Supreme Court as something like Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation sounds very positive and the Government must try to explore the possibilities of establishing such Panel.
Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in USA
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is a special body situated within United States which control the multiplicity of cases. The Panel was set up in 1968 and it has the authority to determine whether civil actions pending in two or more federal districts can be transferred to a single federal district for pretrial proceedings. The purpose of the transfer is to avoid duplication of discovery and preventing inconsistent pretrial rulings as well as conservation of resources of the parties and the judiciary. The Panel also has the additional responsibility of centralizing multicircuit petitions for review of a government agency order which are pending in two or more federal courts. This Panel convenes its hearings in various parts around the country to facilitate the participation of interested parties.
The suggestion of establishment of a Panel like that of USA seems to be a remarkable solution to avoid multiplicity of cases. Especially in today’s era of social media dominance, it is very important to control these complex issues which are adversely affecting our criminal legal system. The Centre Government must come out with such mechanism so that no one can play with the law and misuse it. No one can take shield of law for harassment to an individual. Let’s see whether the Central Government will come out with any proposal or the citizens will be compelled to knock the doors of Courts each time. This is high time to curb the ongoing trend of filing multiple identical complaints against an individual in respect of same offence. It cannot be ignored that the alleged accused in recent incidents discussed above were having handsome financial status. What if the complaints are made in different states against a normal citizen who is not financially sound and is not having logistical capacity to file the Petition?
The Author is lawyer based in Chandigarh