In early April, the Supreme Court dealt with the question of limitation period mentioned under Section 468 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and its scope and applicability to domestic violence cases; particularly Section 12 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (Domestic Violence Act), 2005.
The impugned case was an appeal sought from the decision of the Madras High Court that opined that an application under Section 12 cannot be maintained after a period of one year has passed of the alleged acts, in accordance with the aforementioned limitation period of the CrPC.
Definition of Domestic Violence
Under the Domestic Violence Act, the legislation has ensured that a wide ambit is covered in the definition. Thus, in Section 3 of the Act, domestic violence is defined as: ‘For the purposes of this Act, any act, omission or commission or conduct of the respondent shall constitute domestic violence in case it —
- harms or injures or endangers the health, safety, life, limb or well?being, whether mental or physical, of the aggrieved person or tends to do so and includes causing physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse and economic abuse; or
- harasses, harms, injures or endangers the aggrieved person with a view to coerce her or any other person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any dowry or other property or valuable security; or
- has the effect of threatening the aggrieved person or any person related to her by any conduct mentioned in clause (a) or clause (b); or
- otherwise injures or causes harm, whether physical or mental, to the aggrieved person.’
This article has been written following the report of a domestic violence case filed by a woman against her in-laws and her husband. This decision is applicable to limitation periods in all domestic violence cases, as any precedent set by the Supreme Court is the law of the land.
Brief Facts of the Case
Kamatchi, the petitioner, filed an application under Section 12 of the Domestic Violence Act, seeking protection against her husband, Laxshmi Narayan and her in-laws. On 21 August 2018, the Protection Officer filed a report regarding the said allegations. The marriage was solemnized in September 2007.
Kamatchi complained that prior to the marriage, the in-laws and the husband harassed her family for jewelry and dowry. Further, the in-laws ‘tortured’ the complainant and did not allow her to move with her husband. Thereafter, all those accused filed a petition under 482 of the CrPC seeking a quashing of the proceedings. The appeals of the father-in-law and sister-in-law were allowed and were quashed. The High Court also dismissed the wife’s application, holding that it should have been filed within one year of the incident(s). This was then challenged in the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s Analysis with respect to the Case
The Apex Court analysed the case with respect to the meaning and scope of the limitation period and the precedents used by the Madras High Court to reach its decision.
- Offence under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005: Against the High Court’s reasoning, the Supreme Court opined that an application under Section 12 of the Act cannot be treated as an ‘offence’. An offence would only be triggered when there is a breach of an order passed under Section 12. When the Magistrate passes an order in consonance with Section 12, it is only if this order is violated that an offence worthy of a penalty under Section 31 is manifested. This is the distinction created between filing of the complaint and an offence under the Act.
Thus, the limitation period prescribed under Section 468 of the CrPC will apply from the time of the ‘offence’ under the Act, i.e., if the order under Section 12 is violated. There is no offence when an application is preferred under Section 12. This provision only deals with orders/directions of the magistrate upon taking cognizance of a complaint.
- Dismissal of Relied Precedents: The Supreme Court then dealt with the cases upon which the High Court relied for its decision. Dealing with Inderjit Singh Grewal v. State of Punjab & Anr., the Supreme Court stated that the main issue in this case was about the fact that domestic violence was alleged after any relationship between the parties had ceased to exist, i.e., after the decree of divorce. Hence, this case, though dealing with limitation under Section 468 of the CrPC, had a completely different factual matrix and, thus, could not be fully depended upon. The second case relied upon was Krishna Bhattacharjee v. Sarathi Choudhary. The Supreme Court also dismissed this case as one of value as the plea of limitation was rejected due to the ‘continuing’ nature of offences that had no terminal/certain point from which date the limitation could be calculated. Thus, the decisions relied upon were not considered as material or essential for the case in hand by the Supreme Court.
- Meaning of Limitation w.r.t. Cognizance of Offence: The most important case relied upon by the Supreme Court is the SC Constitutional Bench ruling in Sarah Mathew v. Institute of Cardio Vascular Diseases etc. & Ors. The bench, very directly, considered the following question for addressing the limitation period under the CrPC: Whether, for the purposes of computing the period of limitation under Section 468 CrPC, the relevant date is the date of filing of the complaint or the date of institution of the prosecution, or whether it is the date on which the Magistrate takes cognizance of the offence?
The Supreme Court answered this in detail and stated that in the interest of justice and so as to not prejudice the complainant, ‘cognizance’ must be understood to be taken from the period of commission of the offence. If the complaint is filed in time, the complainant must not be prejudiced for reasons beyond their control. If cognizance is taken after the expiry of the limitation, it lies on the courts of law and those taking cognizance of the case, for instance, a magistrate. As long as the complaint was within the limitation period from the date of commission of the offence, the court must take note of the offence, even if at the time of taking note, the limitation period expires.
Therefore, in brief, these were the key points that turned the outcome of the case in favour of the complainant at the Supreme Court.
Reporting Domestic Violence
Directly file a complaint under the Act
A complaint for domestic violence can be lodged in the following manner:
National Commission for Women (NCW)
- The aggrieved person, or any other witness of the offence on her behalf, can approach a Police Officer, Protection Officer, and Service Provider or can directly file a complaint with a Magistrate for obtaining orders or reliefs under the Act. The informant, who in good faith provides information relating to the offence to the relevant authorities, will not have any civil or criminal liability.
- The court is required to take cognizance of the complaint by instituting a hearing within three days of the complaint.
- The Magistrate shall give a notice of the date of hearing to the Protection Officer to be served to the Respondent and such other persons as directed by the Magistrate, within a maximum period of two days, or such further reasonable time as allowed by the Magistrate.
- The court is required to dispose of the case within sixty days of the first hearing.
- The court, to establish the offence by the Respondent, can use the sole testimony of the aggrieved person.
- Upon finding the complaint genuine, the court can pass a Protection Order, which shall remain in force till the aggrieved person applies for discharge. If upon receipt of an application from the aggrieved person, the Magistrate is satisfied that the circumstances so require, they may alter, modify or revoke an order after recording the reasons in writing. Any of the following orders may be passed:
- Protection order: Restrain the accused, or any other family member, from committing any act of violence. Disallow any such member from entering place of residence or employment. This is an interim relief.
- Residence order: The court, if it so feels, that the victim has no other viable place for residing, can prevent the accused or any other such members from dispossessing the victim from the matrimonial home and disallow entrance into any part of the home where she may reside.
- Monetary Relief: Seek monetary relief/compensation for any medical expenses or any other loss that may have occurred due to the violence.
- Custody of Child: The court can grant temporary custody of the child to the complainant.
- Compensation Orders: Compensation and damages can be sought for injuries, both mental and physical.
- A complaint can also be filed under Section 498 A of the Indian Penal Code, which defines the offence of matrimonial cruelty and prescribes the punishment for the husband of a woman or his relative who subjects her to cruelty.
- These orders will remain in force until the victim files an application in the court for its revocation.
- A domestic violence complaint can be filed via an FIR at the nearest police station. The complaint can be lodged under the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 or Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code.
Other Helpline Numbers for Complaint
- The NCW is empowered to take cognizance of domestic violence cases and assist in investigation of the same. These complaints may also include cases of dowry and/or sexual assault of any kind. The NCW will team up with the local police, provide counseling (if sought), and have its own inquiry committee which poses questions to the police, examines witnesses, collects evidence, and submits a formal report at the local NCW. A complaint at the NCW can be filed via telephone or by the online portal at http://ncwapps.nic.in/onlinecomplaintsv2/frmPubRegistration.aspx.
- Police: 100
- Women’s Helpline number: 181 or 1091
- Domestic violence helpline by the National Commission for Women: +91 7217735372
- Single emergency helpline number for immediate assistance to services such as the police and women’s helpline: 112
- The emergency number for transgender and men who have sex with men (MSM) community: 1800-2000-113
The Supreme Court has correctly judged not to put a limitation on domestic violence cases, by law, and on moral grounds. Domestic violence is extremely prevalent in India, and often underreported. Families, especially women, who are largely the victims, are skeptical about voicing their trauma due to societal impressions and impact on the family prestige. If we were to further deter this by technicalities of law, the situation will only worsen, and culprits will live scot-free. It is in the interests of justice to allow a complaint of domestic violence to be filed when one is comfortable. Of course, this has to be reasonable and ideally within the year of such violence occurring. However, the courts must not blatantly turn down such complaints on minor technicalities.
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