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News: Recently, an accused in “the Delhi riots cases” who was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967 was denied bail by a Sessions Court in Delhi. He was involved in a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019.
What is the concept of bail in criminal law?
The bail is based on the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. It ensures that an individual is not unjustly treated, and liberty is not denied when a person is under trial or he/she has not been proven guilty.
In normal circumstances, the bail is granted if an accused is not at risk of escaping or is unlikely to tamper with evidence or intimidate witnesses.
What are the problems wrt bail provisions in UAPA?
The UAPA prohibits a judge from granting bail to an individual if he/she is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the accusation is prima facie true.”
The bail hearings under the UAPA are like a mini-trial. It is subjected to a lot of hearings on lines of a criminal trial. Therefore, this process of grant of bail takes a lot of time.
In these bail hearings, the judge makes decision based on the arguments of the prosecutor/police version only. Unlike trial, in which the defence is entitled to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses, the defence is not entitled to cross-examine. It is done based on the presumption that everything in the police report is true.
A trial under UAPA often takes more than 10 years. If the bail is denied to a person, then it is likely that he/she will have to spend a decade or more behind bars. In addition, the conviction rates under the UAPA are very low. It means that most of the under trials are innocent.
In the UAPA case, the outcome of the bail hearing also determines the outcome of the case itself. For example, the denial of bail is like an accused has been found guilty.
In fact, in a notorious judgment in National Investigation Agency v. Zahoor Ahmad Shah Watali (2019), the Supreme Court forbade the lower courts from in-depth scrutiny of the police case.
In the immediate future, the UAPA provision related to bail prohibitions can be diluted. The police case may also be subjected to stricter scrutiny during bail hearings.
Source: The post is based on an article “How the UAPA is wrecking lives” published in The Hindu on 7th Apr 22.