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Allahabad High Court upholds revocation of arms license to holder despite his acquittal in criminal case

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The Allahabad High Court recently held that a suspended or revoked arms license cannot be restored merely by being acquitted in a criminal case. A single-judge bench of Justice Saurabh Shyam Shamshery passed this order while hearing a petition filed by Indrajeet Singh.

The issue for consideration in the petition is: ‘Whether an acquittal in a criminal case/cases of a licensee (under the Arms Act, 1959) itself is relevant and sufficient ground to alter/ set-aside/review the order of suspension/cancellation of the arms licence passed (under Section 17 of the Arms Act, 1959) due to pendency of said criminal case/cases on the ground that very basis is now wiped out’? or ‘Whether the nature of acquittal i.e. acquittal/acquittal granting benefit of doubt/prosecution unable to prove case beyond a reasonable doubt, would still be relevant and sufficient ground for subjective satisfaction of the licensing authority to continue suspension /revocation of the arms licence specifically in cases where there was allegation of misuse of firearm or offences of serious nature such as offenses are against the State, offence against public tranquillity, offences affecting the human body, offences affecting life, and sexual offences etc.?

P.K. Upadhyay, the counsel for the petitioner, submitted that since subsequently there was an acquittal in the criminal case, the basis of the notice for cancellation of arms licence itself disappears, therefore, the nature or manner of the acquittal was immaterial and consequently the order of cancellation of arms licence ought not to have passed.

In the case, the licensing authority had taken note of the nature of acquittal i.e. petitioner was granted benefit of doubt and considered that licensed arm was used in occurrence and injured remained under medical treatment, therefore, cancelled the firearm licence as it deemed necessary for security of public peace and for public order.

Archana Tyagi, Additional Chief Standing Counsel, argued that Section 17 (3) of the Arms Act, 1959 provides that the licensing authority may by order in writing suspend a license for such period or to revoke the arms licence as it deems necessary for security of the public peace or for public safety.

The satisfaction of the licensing authority is in the nature of subjective satisfaction, therefore, the nature of acquittal i.e. whether the acquittal is an honorable acquittal or on the basis of benefit of doubt or prosecution failed to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt would be a relevant factor for consideration/ subjective satisfaction that still it would be necessary for the security of public peace or for public safety to revoke/suspend the arms licence or not.

The licensing authority while granting licence may take note of applicant’s criminal antecedent, general behaviour in public, social reputation, family background, threat to person or family to ascertain as to whether there is a reasonable possibility of misuse of firearm in future.

She further submitted that acquittal in a criminal case itself, ignoring the nature of acquittal would not be a sufficient ground for consideration of grant of licence or to set-aside the order of suspension/revocation of arms license, in case the said order was passed due to pendency of a criminal case where subsequently order of acquittal was also passed.

The nature of acquittal i.e. by granting benefit of doubt or prosecution failed to prove the guilt beyond reasonable doubt or honorable acquittal would still be relevant and material factor for subjective satisfaction of the licensing authority to arrive at a conclusion with regard to the security of public peace or for public security to grant arms licence/or to continue order of cancellation of arms licence or not.

The Arms Act, 1959 does not specifically provide refusal, suspension or revocation on the ground of registration of a criminal case or on conviction or on the basis of a nature of acquittal, but if there exists subjective satisfaction of the licensing authority that it has reason to believe or it thinks fit for the reasons referred in Section 14, it may refuse, suspend or revoke the licence even for any reason which renders the applicant/licensee unfit for a licence under the Act, 1959 or it deems necessary for the security of public peace or for public safety.

The Court observed that the scheme to grant, refuse, suspension and revocation of arms licence under the Act, 1959 and the subjective satisfaction of the licensing authority on the basis of material available after taking into consideration various factors mentioned in Sections 13, 14 and 17 of the Act, 1959 and also medical certificate, threat perception, genuine requirement, no objection, police report, antecedent verification report, undertaking for safe storage of firearms etc., by way of filling of requisite forms prescribed under schedule of Arms Rule, 2016 subject to restrictions provided under Rules 32 and 112 etc., the important considerations while granting or revoking the arms licence is likelihood or actual misuse of firearm and it is important for the licensing authority to take appropriate decision considering the factors mentioned above including the nature of acquittal to form a reasoned opinion whether to refuse, grant, suspend or revoke the licence. The nature/manner of acquittal is a very relevant factor in disciplinary proceedings as well as in selection on various posts such as police, judiciary and army etc.

The Court further observed that, therefore, at this stage subjective satisfaction of the licensing authority comes into the picture and if the licensing authority finds that due to a certain act whether it is affecting an individual or public at large, may for the security of public peace or for public safety, may suspend or revoke the arms licence. This is a precautionary measure, therefore, it is not necessary that actual disturbance of public peace or public safety may occur. Therefore, even the criminal antecedent of the licensee is a very important factor for consideration for granting license. In these circumstances, even pendency of a criminal case involving serious offence may be sufficient to suspend or revoke the arms licence.

Similarly, even after the acquittal, the nature of acquittal may be an important factor to consider whether there may be a likelihood of disturbance of public peace and safety especially in cases where the offences are against the State, offence against public tranquillity, offences affecting human body, offences affecting life, and sexual offences etc.

The Court held that, in view of the above discussion, the issue under consideration is decided in following terms. The arms licence suspended/cancelled on the ground of pendency of a criminal case/cases against the licensee, the subsequent acquittal itself be not a sole ground for restoration of the arms licence, but the nature of acquittal would still remain a ground for consideration to continue with the suspension/cancellation particularly where the offences are against the State, offence against public tranquillity, offences affecting human body, offences affecting life, and sexual offences etc.

The Court noted that, undisputedly, a show cause notice was issued to the petitioner to revoke his arms licence on the ground of pending criminal case. However, despite the petitioner was granted acquittal in the said criminal cases, the licensing authority revoked the arms licences issued to the petitioner order dated May 30, 2012 on the basis of allegations made in the said criminal case that the firearm issued to the petitioner was misused and that nature of acquittal was not honourable but due to grant of benefit of doubt.

The appeal filed by the petitioner against the said order before the respondents was also dismissed on December 17, 2018 confirming the finding of the licensing authority.

“In view of the above discussions, considering that there was misuse of firearm and that basis of acquittal was granting of benefit of doubt and it was not a case of acquittal and above all it was a case of attempt to murder, the licensing authority has sufficient material to hold that it was not in the interest of public order and for security of public peace to continue the arms licence with the petitioner and it was rightly cancelled,” the Court observed while dismissing the petition.

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