In a judgment on April 15, 2021, the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir was dealing with the matter of joint complaints observed that Section 142 of the Negotiable Instruments Act talks about the “complaint” and not “complaints” and hence, the section rules out filling of joint complaints by 2 or more than 2 persons.
In the present case, a piece of land was purchased by the Petitioner from the Respondent and owed to him the amount of RS.250000/- for the same. With the purpose of discharging the liability, three cheques of an amount bearing RS.50000/- each and one cheque of RS.1 lakh were issued by the Petitioner in the name of the Respondent which was returned by the concerned banks on the grounds of insufficient funds. Thereafter, it was claimed by the Respondent that he has requested the Petitioner to pay the amount but no heed was given by the Petitioner to the requests of the Respondent.
Later, on July 7, 2014, a legal notice was served by the Respondent requesting for the payment of the amount within 15 days of the receipt of notice but the amount was not liquidated by the Petitioner and as a result, a complaint was filed by the Respondent before the trial Court from where the impugned order came. The impugned Order was the result of the application of the Respondent for dismissal of the complaint as it was not maintainable on the grounds that it was a joint complaint. The objection of the Respondent was considered by the trial court and the application of the Petitioner was dismissed and no finding was given about the maintainability of Section 138 r/w Section 142 of Negotiable Instruments Act. As a consequence, the impugned judgment of the Trial Court was challenged by the petition before the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir.
Pleadings before the Court
It was submitted by the learned counsel on behalf of the Petitioner that a joint complaint was not contemplated under Section 200 of the Code of Criminal Procedure or Section 138 read with Section 142 of the Negotiable Instruments Act. It was also argued that despite the Respondents’ contention that the Petitioner had joint liability against them, the Petitioner had given three cheques in favour and in the name of respondent No.1 and one cheque for Rs.50000/- in the name of respondent No.2, and therefore a joint notice issued by the Respondents through their counsel was not permissible in law.
On the other hand, it was submitted by the learned counsel on behalf of the Respondent that a joint complaint by two or more persons was maintainable in the absence of a clear bar under Section 138 read with Section 142 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, particularly when the accused had given bounced cheques to discharge a joint liability against the complainants. It was also argued that the decisions focused on by Mr. N. H. Shah concern a case made under Section 200 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, and Chapter XVII of the Negotiable Instruments Act was a separate and full framework that was not governed or limited by the Criminal Procedure Code.
It was observed by the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir that Section 142, which sets out the process for the Court to take cognizance of a complaint filed under Section 138 of the Act, refers to a complaint rather than the complaints, implying that it only envisions one plaintiff in a complaint and therefore precludes the filing of a joint complaint by two or more than two people.
After properly scrutinizing Section 143 of the NI Act, it was further observed that cases under Section 138 of the Act were expected to be tried summarily under the provisions of Sections 262 to 265 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, according to Section 143 of the Act. As a result, it was incorrect to claim that Chapter XVII was a full Code in and of itself, ignoring the Criminal Procedure Code’s applicability. Also, a combined reading of Sections 138, 141, 142, and 143 of the NI Act would certainly lead to the inference that a joint complaint by two or more persons against an accused was not maintainable even under Chapter XVII of the Act.
The High Court of Jammu and Kashmir allowed the petition in part and the impugned complaint and the proceedings taken thereon by Respondent no 2 was quashed by observing that the complaint, which was still pending before the trial court, can be continued by and on behalf of one of the two complainants, and the other claimant can be asked to choose his remedy separately as permitted by statute.
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