Courts can take cognisance of Indian’s conviction abroad: Bombay HC

Mumbai: Courts or judicial authorities in India can take cognisance of the conviction of an Indian by a foreign court for an offence committed outside India, the Bombay High Court has held.

However, such a conviction will not be automatically binding upon the courts or authorities in India while they are exercising their judicial powers, and they must use their discretion on the effects of the same, a three-judge bench of the Bombay High Court has ruled.

The judgement was passed yesterday by a bench comprising Justices BR Gavai, KR Sriram, and BP Colabawalla. In 2013, a division bench had referred to the larger bench, the question of whether the conviction of an Indian by a foreign court for an offence committed in that country can be taken notice of by the courts or authorities in India and would such a conviction be binding on courts and authorities in India while trying such a person for a similar offence in India.

The question had been posed by the division bench while it was dealing with a petition filed by Prabodh Mehta, the trustee of multi-speciality Lilavati Hospital. Mehta was removed from the post of the trustee following an order of Joint Charity Commissioner (JCC) on the complaint of Mehta’s relative and trustee Charuben. In March 2013, the JCC had acted on the grounds that Mehta had been convicted for an offence of moral turpitude in Belgium. The City Civil Court too upheld the JCC’s ruling based on Mehta’s conviction by a court in Belgium. Mehta, however, filed an appeal in the High Court, saying that he had subsequently been pardoned by the court in Belgium and thus, his criminal record stood erased. He had further argued that his conviction by the foreign court had nothing to do with his capacity as the trustee of the hospital, and thus, should not have affected his job. While the division bench held at that time that the nature of the crime committed by Mehta in Belgium could not be ignored by a country like India since its own laws on the subject were also very stringent, it referred the essential question of such cognisance and its binding effect to the larger bench.

The three-judge bench referred to several previous judgements of the Supreme Court on the subject and concluded, “The correct position of law is that an Indian court or any other quasi-judicial authority in India has the power to take cognisance of an Indian’s conviction by a foreign court while exercising its own judicial powers. “For instance, if an Indian national commits a crime involving moral turpitude on foreign soil and after being convicted and undergoing his sentence there, returns to India asking that he be permitted to contest an election, the same won’t be allowed since moral turpitude is a ground for disqualification here,” the bench said. “Thus, ignoring such conviction and allowing him to contest elections would not only be contrary to public policy, but it would also breach the comity that exists between the two nations,” the larger bench said. “However, such cognisance cannot be said to be ipso facto binding on Indian courts or authorities,” the bench said. It said that the Indian courts and authorities, “while exercising their judicial powers, will have to employ their discretion to decide upon the effects of such a conviction on their respective orders.”