Application of Issue estoppel in the administration of Criminal Justice

The issue estoppel which is comparatively a recent development in the arena of administration of criminal Justice the matter has been considered by the Supreme Court in several decisions, such as, Pritam Singh v. State of Punjab, Manipur Administration v. Thokchom , Piara Singh v. State of Punjab, , Ravinder Singh v. State of Haryana, , Mohar Rat v. State of Bihar, . In Masud Khan v. State of U.P., the principle of issue estoppel has been described thus. Where an issue of fact has been tried by a competent court on a former occasion and a finding has been reached in favour of an accused, such a finding would constitute an estoppel or res judicata against the prosecution not as a bar to the trial and conviction of the accused for a different or distinct offence but as precluding the reception of evidence to disturb that finding of fact when the accused is tried subsequently even for a different offence which might be permitted by law. It has however been clearly laid down by the Supreme Court in the said decision that the principle of issue estoppel applies to two criminal proceedings.

It is therefore evident that a decision of the civil court will not be binding on the parties In a criminal proceeding unless the decision is of such nature as mentioned in Section 41 of the Evidence Act or it is a decision of a civil court between the same parties concerning a dispute of civil nature relating to question of title. Now taking a consistent view of the provisions of law including the Sections 40 to 43 of the Evidence Act and the different decisions of the Supreme Court discussed above it can be stated by way of summarisation that ordinarily a civil court decision is not bending on the criminal court nor is a criminal court decision binding on the civil court. A decision of a competent court in respect of any matter mentioned in Section 41 of the Evidence Act is however conclusive proof of certain facts mentioned therein and to that extent such decision is binding everywhere.

A decision of a civil court relating to title is however binding on the parties and in that sense such decision of a competent court cannot be reopened as between the same parties and therefore a question of title which has been decided by a competent civil court cannot be reagitated in a criminal proceeding between the same parties inasmuch as it is the civil court which is competent to decide title and not the criminal court. Decisions on other matters which will fall within the jurisdiction of the criminal court to determine for the disposal of any particular criminal case will be a matter for the criminal court to decide on the basis of evidence that may be adduced before it irrespective of whether such question was earlier decided by any civil court in any civil action. In view of the position of law as discussed above there is therefore no question of apprehending that a decision of the civil court in the suit in respect of the present matter will automatically lead to a conviction of the accused In the criminal case without trial by the criminal court and irrespective of the question whether the elements of the offence under Section 409 IPC have been satisfied in this case, not withstanding any decree in the civil suit even if passed In favour of the complainant appellant.

It is also to be noted here that in the particular circumstances where a decision of the civil court becomes binding on the criminal court, as discussed above, and if actions are pending in both civil and criminal courts in such a situation, it is only fit and proper that either the criminal case pending in the criminal court may be stayed till disposal of the civil case or both the civil case and the criminal case may be allowed to proceed simultaneously, but there must not be a stay of the civil case in such a situation. Even otherwise where the decision in the civil case is not binding in the criminal case, the civil case should not be stayed for light grounds on mere asking and stay should be granted only in exceptional circumstances for weighty reasons.