A Court recall that impacts the rights of the accused

Source- The post is based on the article “A Court recall that impacts the rights of the accused” published in “The Hindu” on 16th May 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- Indian constitution

Relevance– Issues related to fundamental rights

News– On May 12, in its interim order, the Supreme Court clarified that courts could grant default bail without relying on the Ritu Chhabaria judgement.

What are provisions related to bail in the Indian legal system?

The right to statutory bail is available to accused persons in cases when the investigating agency fails to complete its investigation within the stipulated time. It is often known as default bail.

Under Section 167(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the maximum time available to investigators is 60 or 90 days. It depends on the seriousness of the offence.

If the authorities are unable to complete the investigation within this time period, the accused can apply for default bail under Section 167(2) of the CrPC.

The right to bail has been described by the Court in multiple judgments as an indefeasible right. It flows from Article 21 of the Constitution.

In Achpal vs State of Rajasthan (2018), the Court held that an investigation report filed by an unauthorised investigating officer, would not bar the accused from availing default bail.

In S. Kasi vs State (2020), the Court further stated that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the investigating agencies would not be allowed any relaxation for the maximum stipulated period of investigation. It could lead to additional detention of the accused.

Why are provisions related to bail not effective?

These protections related to bail have eroded in practice. Investigating authorities routinely filed incomplete or supplementary charge sheets within the 60/90 day period, to prevent the accused from seeking default bail.

In other instances, the investigating authorities would file charge sheets, incomplete or otherwise, after the 60/90 day period. It is before the default bail application could be filed by the accused.

What are SC viewpoints in the Ritu Chhabaria case?

The Supreme Court’s decision in Ritu Chhabaria delegitimizes such illegal practices. It held that incomplete charge sheets filed by the police would not bar an accused from applying for default bail.

The Court emphasised that the preliminary or incomplete nature of these police reports revealed that the investigation was not complete.

In Jasbir Singh (2023), the Supreme Court held that a complete charge sheet filed within time could not be rejected because the investigation did not have sanction.

Why is the SC decision to recall its judgement in the Ritu Chhabaria case is alarming?

Right to default bail could be made subservient to concerns of ‘difficulties’ faced by investigative authorities.

The Supreme Court also agreed to defer decisions on bail for accused persons across the country as per Ritu Chhabaria case guidelines. It makes the matter even more serious.

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