Protection only for honest public servants: apex court

In a judgment with far-reaching effect on numerous cases pending under the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Supreme Court has held that a public servant cannot by default claim legal protection of prior sanction against prosecution.

What has the Supreme Court said?

  • Under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.PC), no court should take cognizance of criminal charges against a public servant unless previous sanction to prosecute him is received from a competent authority.
  • This safeguard is meant to help government servants perform their duties honestly without fear of malicious prosecution. However, the provision has largely become a ruse to delay prosecution in corruption cases.
  • Besides, this protection cannot be claimed immediately after a complaint is lodged.
  • The question of prior sanction would be considered later, during stages in the criminal trial, as and when the need arises, the apex court observed.

Background:

  • The judgment came in a clutch of criminal appeals filed by the Andhra Pradesh police in 2013 against a High Court order quashing criminal proceedings against two revenue officials who successfully claimed protection under Section 197 of CrPC.
  • The duo figured among 41 people, including revenue officials, stamp vendors and document writers, against whom the police registered an FIR in 1999 for allegedly manipulating registers and undervaluing property, causing loss to the government.
  • Setting aside the High Court order to quash the criminal proceedings against them, the SC held that the trial should be completed expeditiously before December 31 this year.

CrPC section 197:

  • Public servants have been treated as special category under Section 197 of CrPC to protect them from malicious or vexatious prosecution. Such protection from harassment is given in public interest.

Sources: The Hindu.

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