The Hon’ble High Court of Punjab and Haryana at Chandigarh vide order dated 11.08.2020 held that the offence of dishonour of a cheque is not an offence against society and that an accused is entitled to have mitigating factors considered in sentencing.
The said order was passed in a revision petition filed by Rakesh Kumar, who was convicted and sentenced by the trial court to undergo rigorous imprisonment for two years under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 and was further directed to pay compensation equal to the amount dishonoured, along with 9% interest per annum, from the date of cheque till the judgment date vide judgement dated 20.10.2015.
The Accused/Petitioner therefore filed the present revision petition praying to the Hon’ble High Court to reduce the quantum of his sentence.
Counsel for the Petitioner submitted that the Petitioner was a poor man and had undergone a protracted trial of almost 10 years. Additionally, it was submitted that the Petitioner had also undergone actual sentence of one year and 9 days.
The Complainant/ Respondent No.1 on the other hand submitted that since the Petitioner had committed an offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act 1881, he deserved to undergo the complete sentence and merely because he underwent a protracted trial, did not entitle him to any benefit.
After hearing both the parties, Justice Sudhir Mittal ruled that the question of sentencing was primarily a matter of discretion in the absence of statutory provisions governing the same, and that the sentence imposed was supposed to be proportionate to the crime committed.
The sentence was also to be in accordance with the principles of deterrence, retribution or restoration, with mitigating and aggravating circumstances to be factored in, the High Court observed.
“Provisions inserted for inculcating greater faith in banking transactions needed more teeth so that cases involving dishonour of cheques reduced. It is, thus, apparent that deterrence and restoration are the principles to be kept in mind for sentencing,” Justice Mittal held.
The Hon’ble High Court went on to note that the Petitioner had been awarded the maximum sentence by the trial court, keeping in view the socio-economic nature of the offence. Further, the principle of restoration was applied in ordering the payment of compensation with interest.
However, it opined that the maximum sentence of 2 years imposed on the Petitioner was arbitrary, given the quasi-criminal nature of the offence and the fact that the cheque amount was only Rs 4, 00,000/- (Rupees Four Lakh Only).
“Mitigating circumstances argued by counsel for the petitioner such as the petitioner being a poor person and having undergone a protracted trial of almost 10 years, also exist”, Justice Mittal stated.
Therefore, the revision petitioner’s prayer for a reduction in prison time was accepted and the sentence was reduced to the period already undergone.