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Cheque bouncing: SC settles law on where to file a complaint

The Supreme Court (SC) ruled on Friday that a complaint about a bounced cheque must only be filed at the place where the bank dishonoured it, settling doubts raised by its own earlier conflicting judgments on the jurisdiction of a magistrate.

Some judgments had specified the place where the cheque was issued, others from where the notice of dishonour was sent and still others the place of receipt. Owing to this confusion in law, the matter was referred to a larger bench of the SC.

A three-judge bench headed by T S Thakur unanimously laid down that the place of dishonour is the right place to file a complaint. However, to avoid inconvenience to persons already prosecuting such cases, the new rule is to come into force only with respect to cases in the future. Those in which trials have begun will remain in the same courts.

The judgment was delivered on a large number of appeals, including those moved by Videocon Industries and Kitchen Appliances Ltd, which raised the question of jurisdiction of the magistrate who can try cases under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act. According to this provision, it is an offence to issue cheques without a sufficient balance in the account, if the payment is made to discharge a debt or liability. If the amount is not paid within two weeks, the payee can file a criminal complaint.

This is the second major ruling in recent months dealing with this Act. There are a little more than four million cheque-bounce cases at courts. In April, another bench issued a series of guidelines, including issuance of summons through e-mails and completion of evidence within three months.

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