A person is guilty of a cheque-bounce case and a lower court directs him to pay 20 per cent of the value of the cheque immediately to the other party and pay the rest soon. The person does not comply.

The matter goes to the High Court. The person accused wants to cross-examine the other party, but the Court refuses to allow him to do that on the grounds that he failed to comply with the orders for immediate payment of 20 per cent. He goes to the Supreme Court. The apex court looks at the situation differently.

This is a case, (Noor Mohammad vs Khurram Pasha) in which the heart of the dispute is a cheque bounce, an offence under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act.

The High Court of Karnataka, Bengaluru had upheld an earlier decision of a Trial Court, observing that “the accused is reluctant in complying with the order of this Court. Under these circumstances, this Court is of the opinion that the learned Magistrate has rightly refused the prayer made by accused seeking permission to cross-examine.” This was subsequently upheld by the same Court when the appellant filed a Criminal Revision Petition. Aggrieved, he approached the Supreme Court of India.

In their verdict, Justices UU Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia note that— “When the matter was taken-up for examination of witnesses, an application was made on behalf of the appellant under Section 145(2) of the Act seeking permission to cross-examine the respondent. In view of his failure to deposit the interim compensation as directed, the application preferred by the appellant was found to be not maintainable and was dismissed by the Trial Court.”

Upon this, the judges observed: “The remedy for failure to pay interim compensation as directed by the court is thus provided for by the Legislature. The method and modality of recovery of interim compensation is clearly delineated by the Legislature. It is well known principle that if a statute prescribes a method or modality for exercise of power, by necessary implication, the other methods of performance are not acceptable.”

The provision concerned nowhere contemplates that an accused who had failed to deposit interim compensation could be fastened with any other disability including denial of right to cross-examine the witnesses examined on behalf of the complainant. Any such order foreclosing the right would not be within the powers conferred upon the court and would, as a matter of fact, go well beyond the permissible exercise of power, they said.

“Since the right to cross-examine the respondent was denied to the appellant, the decisions rendered by the courts below suffer from an inherent infirmity and illegality. Therefore, we have no hesitation in allowing this appeal and setting aside the decisions of all three courts with further direction that Complaint Case No. 244 of 2019 shall stand restored to the file of the Trial Court. The Trial Court is directed to permit the appellant to cross-examine the respondent and then take the proceedings to a logical conclusion,” the Supreme Court said.