Cuttack, July 16: The Odisha High Court has observed that there is a growing tendency among litigants to give civil disputes the colour and complexion of criminal cases in the likelihood of an imminent settlement.

While granting bail to a person accused in a cheating case, prima facie having all the ingredients of a civil dispute, Justice SK Panigrahi said the High Court is regularly witnessing a worrisome trend of increasing instances of abuse of the process of law by litigants seeking to settle civil disputes, using the criminal law machinery, The New Indian Express reported.

The petitioner was accused of cheating by way of not paying back Rs  64 lakh which he owed to a co-villager with whom he had business relationship for 15 years.

Justice Panigrahi said one of the major reasons why litigants opt for a criminal prosecution as opposed to civil proceedings is a perceived notion that criminal proceedings offer quick relief which often drives the litigants to initiate false and vexatious proceedings.

“It is imperative that in cases of some contractual disputes or other kinds of civil dispute which are sought to be criminalised should follow a procedure of conducting a mandatory preliminary inquiry before resorting to file/registering an FIR,” Justice Panigrahi said in his July 13 order.

“Safeguard of conducting a preliminary enquiry can prevent criminalisation of disputes that are civil in nature. The duty to curb such menace by not forcing a person to go through the rigmarole of criminal prosecution, in purely civil disputes, commences with the police,” Justice Panigrahi underlined.

“Needless to state, filing of frivolous cases, which seek to wreak vengeance by tweaking civil disputes into criminal cases, adds to these petty crimes. Such attempts should be stalled so that the focus of attention in the criminal courts remains on serious crimes which affect the society at large,” Justice Panigrahi emphasised.

The Advisory Council of the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms, which had noted that out of over 18.6 million criminal cases pending in the subordinate courts of the country, only 2.8 million cases pertain to serious crimes, Justice Panigrahi added.

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