Family Court’s Finding Regarding Previous Marriage Can Be Relied On To Quash Complaint About Bigamy Under Section 494/495 IPC: Supreme Court

Team SoOLEGAL 27 Jan 2022 3:12pm

Family Court’s Finding Regarding Previous Marriage Can Be Relied On To Quash Complaint About Bigamy Under Section 494/495 IPC: Supreme Court

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court recently stated that a High Court’s decision to allow a criminal proceeding to proceed for offenses under sections 494 and 495 of the Indian Penal Code, which deal with bigamy, despite the Family Court’s finding that the wife did not have a subsisting prior marriage, would be an abuse of the process.

The Court observed that referring to the Family Court’s conclusive findings is not the same as relying on evidence that is the subject of a trial.

The observation as made in light of the fact that the appellant wife and her husband (second respondent) were parties to the Family Court’s decision in this case, and no contentious material or disputed issued of evidence arose.

The observation was made by a Bench comprised of Justices DY Chandrachud and Bela Trivedi in an appeal challenging a Gauhati High Court order dismissing a wife’s application seeking quashing of a complaint filed against her by her husband for offences under section 494 and 495 of the Indian penal Code 1862.

Section 494 of the Indian penal Code deals with the crime of marrying again during the life of an existing spouse, while section 495 deals with the crime of concealing the previous marriage from the person with whom the subsequent marriage is contracted.

The Court has noted that between the appellant and her husband, the issue of whether she has a subsisting marriage on the date she entered into a marriage with the second respondent is the subject of a conclusive finding by the Principal Judge of the Family Court that has reached finality.

Furthermore, explanation (b) to section 7(1) of the Family Courts Act 1984 expressly grants the Family Court Jurisdiction to determine a person’s matrimonial status. The Act elevates a Family Court to the status of a District Court and bestows upon it the jurisdiction exercisable by a magistrate of the First class under chapter IX of the Cr.P.C, allowing it to gather evidence to make such a determination.

Thus, the Court has held that, “relying on the judgment of the family court which has jurisdiction to decide the gravamen of the offence alleged in the criminal complaint, would not be same as relying on evidentiary materials that are due for appreciation by the Trial Court, such as the investigation report before it is forwarded to the Magistrate.”

The Bench observed that the Family Court’s decision clearly demonstrates that whether
1. The Appellant was previously married to another person
2. The validity of the Second respondent’s divorce was in dispute before the Family Court.

The fact finding was that the appellant did not have a pre – existing married him. The bench noted that when the Family Court’s order was challenged before the Division Bench of the High Court, the Division Bench dismissed the appeal for non – prosecution, implying that the family court’s order continues to hold the field. Nonetheless, the impugned judgment held that the factum of the appellant’s continuing marriage is a contentious matter and declined to dismiss the criminal complaint against the appellant.

The Court therefore observed that, “the single judge of the High Court was not justified in coming to the conclusion that the issue as to whether the appellant had a subsisting prior marriage was a ‘highly contentious matter’ which has to be tried on the basis of the evidence on the record.”

The Court granted the wife’s appeal, overturning the impugned judgment and order of the Gauhati High Court, and granted the appellant’s petition for quashing the complaint.

The appellant was represented before the Court by Advocates Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi, Ibad Mushtaq, Kanishka Prasad, and Akansha Rai, Nalin Kohli, AAG of Assam, represented the state.

Tagged: Family Court   Supreme Court   Indian Penal Code   Justice DY Chandrachud   Justice Bela Trivedi  
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