No arrest without checking complaints by a Committee of Civil society members in dowry cases: Supreme Court

New Delhi, DHNS: In a big relief to innocent family members of husbands in dowry harassment cases, the Supreme Court on Thursday directed that no arrest should normally take place without examination of a complaint by a committee of civil society members.

The top court directed for the formation of one or more family welfare committee by the District Legal Services Authority in each district with civil society members, wives of officers, retired persons and para legal volunteers, to examine complaints made by women to ensure no arrest was made without its report.

In a landmark judgement meant to check unmindful roping in of all family members of men, a bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and U U Lalit noted that Section 498A of the IPC was brought in with the laudable object of punishing cruelty at the hands of the husband or his relatives against a wife but uncalled for arrest could ruin the chances of settlement in dowry harassment cases.

“Function of this court is not to legislate but only to interpret the law. No doubt in doing so laying down of norms is sometimes unavoidable. Just and fair procedure being part of fundamental right to life, interpretation is required to be placed on a penal provision so that its working is not unjust, unfair or unreasonable,” the bench said.

“Certain safeguards against uncalled for arrest or insensitive investigation have been addressed by this court. Still, the problem continues to a great extent,” the bench added.

Examining a case contending misuse of Section 498A, the apex court appointed Additional Solicitor General A S Nadkarni and senior advocate V Giri, who said there was a growing tendency to abuse the provision to rope in all the relatives, including parents of advanced age, minor children, siblings, grandparents and uncles on the basis of vague and exaggerated allegations.

The arrest also hampered possible reconciliation and reunion of the couple, they added. Nadkarni said the offence should be made bailable and compoundable. Giri suggested that no arrest should be made without approval from the superintendent of police and impounding of passports and issuance of red corner notice must be avoided.

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