06 September 2020

Writ petition of Habeas Corpus in High Court is maintainable in respect of illegal custody of a minor child by one parent

The first issue before this Court is whether a Habeas Corpus petition is maintainable or not in respect of custody of a minor child, who is in the custody of the father and grandparents at Gwalior. [Para No.11]

Writ petition of Habeas Corpus in High Court  is maintainable in respect of illegal custody of a minor child by one parent
    The apex Court in the case of Capt. Dushyant Somal Vs. Sushma Somal and another reported in (1981) 2 SCC 277 has dealt with the jurisdictional aspect with regard to issuance of Habeas Corpus writ in respect of illegal custody of Child. Paragraphs 3, 5 and 7 of the aforesaid judgment reads as under :-
"3. There can be no question that a Writ of Habeas Corpus is not to be issued as a matter of course, particularly when the writ is sought against a parent for the custody of a child. Clear grounds must be made out.
    Nor is a person to be punished for contempt of Court for disobeying an order of Court except when the disobedience is established beyond reasonable doubt, the standard of proof being similar, even if not the same, as in a criminal proceeding. Where the person alleged to be in contempt is able to place before the Court sufficient material to conclude that it is impossible to obey the order, the Court will not be justified in punishing the alleged contemner. But all this does not mean that a Writ of Habeas Corpus cannot or will not be issued against a parent who with impunity snatches away a child from the lawful custody of the other parent, to whom a Court has given such custody. Nor does it mean that despite the contumacious conduct of such a parent in not producing the child even after a direction to do so has been given to him, he can still plead justification for the disobedience of the order by merely persisting that he has not taken away the child and contending that it is therefore, impossible to obey the order. In the case before us, the evidence of the mother and the grand- mother of the child was not subjected to any cross- examination; the appellant-petitioner did not choose to go into the witness box; he did not choose to examine any witness on his behalf. The evidence of the grand- mother, corroborated by the evidence of the mother, stood unchallenged that the appellant-petitioner snatched away Sandeep when he was waiting for a bus in the company of his grand-mother. The High Court was quite right in coming to the conclusion that he appellant-petitioner had taken away the child unlawfully from the custody of the child's mother. The Writ, of Habeas Corpus was, therefore, rightly issued. In the circumstances, on the finding, impossibility of obeying the order was not an excuse which could be properly put forward.
5. It was submitted that the appellant-petitioner did not give evidence, he did not examine any witness on his behalf and he did not cross-examine his wife and mother-in-law because, he would be disclosing his defence in the criminal case, if he so did. He could not be compelled to disclose his defence in the criminal case in that manner as that would offend against the fundamental right guaranteed by Article 20(3) of the Constitution. It was suggested that the entire question whether the appellant-petitioner had unlawfully removed the child from the custody of the mother could be exhaustively enquired into in the criminal case where he was facing the charge of kidnapping. It was argued that on that ground alone the writ petition should have been dismissed, the submission is entirely misconceived. In answer to the rule nisi, all that he was required to do was to produce the child in Courts if the child was in his custody. If after producing the child, he wanted to retain the custody of the child, he would have to satisfy the Court that the child was lawfully in his custody. There was no question at all of compelling the appellant-petitioner to be a witness against himself. He was free to examine himself as a witness or not. If he examined himself he could still refuse to answer questions, answers to which might incriminate him in pending prosecutions. He was also free to examine or not other witnesses on his behalf and to cross examine or not, witnesses examined by the opposite party. Protection against testimonial compulsion" did not convert the position of a the position of a person accused of an offence into a position of privilege, with, immunity from any other action contemplated by law. A. criminal prosecution was not a fortress against all other actions in law. To accept the position that the pendency of a prosecution was a valid answer to a rule for Habeas Corpus would be to subvert the judicial process and to mock at the Criminal Justice system. All that Article 20(3) guaranteed was that a person accused of an offence Shall not be compelled to be a witness against himself, nothing less and, certain nothing more. Immunity against testimonial compulsion did not extend to refusal to examine and cross-examine witnesses and it was not open to a party proceeding to refuse to examine himself or anyone else as a witness on his side and to cross examine the witnesses for the opposite party on the ground of testimonial compulsion and then to contend that no relief should be given to. the opposite party on the basis of the evidence adduced by the other party. We are unable to see how Article 20(3) comes into the picture at all.
7. It was argued that the wife had alternate remedies under the Guardian and Wards Act and the CrPC and so a Writ should not have been issued. True, alternate remedy ordinarily inhibits a prerogative writ. But it is not an impassable hurdle. Where what is complained of is an impudent disregard of an order of a Court, the fact certainly cries out that a prerogative writ shall issue,. In regard to the sentence, instead of the sentence imposed by the High Court, we substitute a sentence of three months, simple imprisonment and a fine of Rupees Five hundred. The sentence of imprisonment or such part of it as may not have been served will stand remitted on the appellant-petitioner producing the child in the High Court. With this modification in the matter of sentence, the appeal and the Special Leave Petition are dismissed. Criminal Miscellaneous Petition No. 677/81 is dismissed as we are not satisfied that it is a fit case for laying a complaint."[Para No.12]

     In light of the aforesaid judgment, this court is of the opinion that a writ petition for issuance of a writ in nature of Habeas Corpus under article 226 of the Constitution of India in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case is certainly maintainable. Otherwise also, keeping in view the welfare of the child and other factors, this court is of the opinion that the child has to be in the custody of mother.[Para No.13]

Madhya Pradesh High Court

Madhavi Rathore
Vs.
State Of Madhya Pradesh

Decided on 05/09/2020





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