Dowry law: First examine complaint then arrest SC says in landmark verdict

Supreme Court

Till the report is received, no arrest should be effected, the court said.

The Supreme Court on Thursday said that an accused in a dowry harassment case can not be arrested immediately.

The court also directed the formation of one or more family welfare committees by the District Legal Services Authority in each district with civil society members, wives of officers, retired persons and para legal volunteers, to examine such complaints. Certain safeguards against uncalled for arrest or insensitive investigation have been addressed by this court.

So, in a bid to protect husbands from the disgruntled wives, the apex court has now laid a set of guidelines to take a dig at the misuse of anti-dowry laws and with the added aim of felicitating increase in instances of amicable settlement of matrimonial disputes. "To remedy the situation, we are of the view that involvement of civil society in the aid of administration of justice can be one of the steps, apart from the investigating officers and the concerned trial courts being sensitised", the bench said.

But in the wake of the abuse of this law, a bench of Justices A K Goel and UU Lalit said it was high time that such frivolous cases violating the rights of innocent have to be checked.

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The court, however, put a rider to its restrictions, saying that they were not valid in offences involving tangible physical injury or death. Dowry complaints were being filed in the heat of the moment over trivial issues. The constitution and working of such committees may be reviewed from time to time and at least once in a year by the district and sessions judge of the district who is also the chairman of the District Legal Services Authority.

The top court directed that a designated police officer should be appointed to deal with complaints under Section 498A.

The court said that dowry complaints should now be referred to Family Welfare Committees - to be constituted at every district of the country - and no arrest shall be effected till the committee's report is received by police.

In cases where a settlement is reached, it will be open to a district and sessions judge or any other senior judicial officer nominated by him in the district to complete the proceedings including the closing of the criminal case if dispute primarily relates to matrimonial discord.

Among other changes, the bench added clauses under the non-bailable offence to apply for bail at the trial courts, which will be processed on the same day. The Court also stated that impounding of passports and Red Corner Notices for people residing overseas should not be a routine.

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