Bench- Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice M.M Sundresh
The Supreme Court observed that there had been many judgements in the High Court favouring the accused regarding his groundless arrest and upholding the right as enshrined under Articles 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, however, there were also many instances where the Trial Courts were of the view that the arrest is necessary to present the charge sheet under section 173 of the Code of Criminal Procedure as per section 170 of the same code. The Supreme Court reiterated some guidelines of arrest and in response to the ongoing influx of bail requests following the submission of the final report due to a misinterpretation of Section 170 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the court made an effort to classify the various types of offences as a framework for future reference. The court also issued some additional guidelines to clarify this issue, so that, all the courts in India follow a uniform procedure and the rights of every citizen are protected.
In this instance, the individual in question filed a petition for anticipatory bail after the issuance of the charge sheet against him. However, the petition was rejected, and non-bailable warrants were issued due to his failure to appear in court during the proceedings. Subsequently, the accused was interrogated by the Supreme Court following the filing of a Special Leave Petition regarding his non-appearance in the tribunal and the submission of an anticipatory bail application. The Petitioner replied to the court, highlighting that, even if the accused is not arrested during the investigation, he is arrested after filing the chargesheet citing that the law requires it to be so. The Supreme Court found that the law is not interpreted correctly by the police authorities and the lower courts, therefore, it is better to issue guidelines regarding the same.
- Whether the arrest is necessary before the filing of the charge sheet in the court?
- Whether non-bailable warrant can be issued in case of the non-appearance of the accused in court?
- Whether a person who has not been arrested by the investigation agency, should be taken into custody by the court upon filing of chargesheet and his appearance in such court?
The petitioner contended and highlighted the possibility for the trial court to grant interim bail to the accused, even if notice has been given to consider bail, based on the accused’s conduct during the inquiry, which did not warrant detention. Mr. Hariharan further emphasized the need for clarification of section 45 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act of 2002 (PMLA), asserting that individuals facing charges should receive similar benefits as in previous instances, regardless of whether the police department made an arrest under the PMLA or the suspect was brought in with a complaint.
The Respondent side contended the aforementioned approach is ineffective in providing assistance to the accused in situations where they have not cooperated with the investigation, attended questioning by the investigating officers, or complied with summonses. In such cases, if the Court deems it necessary to detain the accused in judicial custody to facilitate the completion of the trial or to conduct further investigation, including potential recovery, the current approach may not be sufficient.
The Additional Solicitor General (ASG) asserted that a modification has been made to category C of section 45 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and that it is currently under consideration by a separate bench of this Court. This matter would be more appropriately addressed by that bench.
The Supreme Court reasoned that In India, there is a high prevalence of undertrial prisoners in jails. The data suggests that over two-thirds of the prison population consists of individuals awaiting trial. Many of these individuals may not necessarily need to be detained, even if they have been charged with a cognizable offence punishable by a maximum of seven years imprisonment or less. Therefore to stop the overcrowding and the misinterpretation of the bail provisions, The court, first, reiterated the guidelines given in Siddharth v. The State Of Uttar Pradesh which are briefly given below
- Section 170 of the Code of Criminal Procedure does not impose an obligation on the officer-in-charge to arrest each and every accused at the time of filing of the charge sheet.
- Non-bailable warrants cannot be issued directly; firstly, summons must be issued, if the summons are not complied with, then the bailable warrants must be issued, and if even bailable warrants are not complied with, then only the non-bailable warrants must be issued.
Other important guidelines that the court highlighted are given below-
- Provisions of arrest must be strictly followed as given under sections 41, 41A and 60A of the code. The court reiterated observations of Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar (2014) which states that for crimes that are punishable with imprisonment of seven years or less, arrest is not mandatory. If an arrest is made, then it is mandatory for the police to record two aspects- “the reason to believe” that the accused will not cooperate with the investigation and “the satisfaction” of the procedure only possible through arrest. The police are required to issue a notice under section 41A of the code to the accused. If this notice is not issued, the accused has the option to proceed with the civil contempt of court against that authority and the accused is given an automatic bail if this notice is not issued.
- The court explicitly stated the principle of Presumption of Innocence. This means the accused is to be treated as innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
- The court fixed the periods for bail applications to be disposed of by the courts in time. For anticipatory bail under section 438 of the code, there is a six-week maximum period and for regular bail, there is a two-week period maximum.
- The most highlighted guideline of this case was the categorization of the offences under four categories as follows–
- Category A: offences that are punishable with imprisonment of seven years or less.
- Category B: offences that are punishable by the death penalty, imprisonment for life or imprisonment of more than seven years.
- Category C: offences that are committed as defined under the special acts, for example- the NDPS, PMLA, UAPA, etc.
- Category D: Economic offences.
- The court stated that the above categories have to be kept in mind by the lower courts while deciding on the question of bail with the following two preconditions-
- The accused was not arrested during the investigation.
- The accused cooperated during the investigation with the authorities.
- The court highlighted the importance of Articles 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution and repeated the observations of the Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar and Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India which ruled that any procedure that violates the rights under Articles 14, 19, 21 are not legal.
Defects of Law
Section 170(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure says that “..it appears to the officer in charge of the police station that there is sufficient evidence or reasonable ground as aforesaid, such officer shall forward the accused under custody to a Magistrate empowered to take cognizance of the offence upon a police report and to try the accused or commit him for trial..”, the word custody here is interpreted as police or judicial custody by the police and lower courts respectively, therefore, the authorities who are not aware of this judgement clarifying this interpretation, still deem it necessary to arrest the person in order to file the charge sheet. However, this custody is neither; a charge sheet can be filed even in the absence of the accused. The arrest is to be made, only when all the guidelines as stated in the rationale are followed.
There have been numerous judgements where the various High Courts as well as the Supreme Court have observed that Bail is the rule and Jail is an exception. This judgement further clarified this principle and the structural categorisation helps with the proper demarcation of application of bail provisions. The police authorities often misuse the arrest provisions which displeased the court and therefore passed these guidelines to increase the accountability of these authorities. The ratio of conviction is low which is why the lower courts justify the rejection of bail application which is not the best interpretation according to the apex court. The core principles of criminal jurisprudence have to be followed in order to fulfil the proper implementation of the penal laws. This judgement has given a proper shape to the bail provisions and has left no scope of speculation to the lower authorities. This ruling can be cited anywhere the Article 21 of the Indian constitution is violated.
Name- Krishna Raj Sharma
College- Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar Law University, Jaipur.
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