The Supreme Court on Tuesday, May 2, asked the Allahabad High Court to immediately withdraw any judicial work from a Sessions judge and send him to the judicial academy to upgrade his judicial assessment skills. The action was a direct result of trial courts continuing to show reluctance to grant bail to accused in cases where custody was not needed despite the Supreme Court’s various rulings to be liberal in their approach and not pass detention order in a routine and mechanical way, reported The Times of India.
Despite the apex court’s clear warning on March 21 this year, that in case of any non-compliance of its order, judicial work of the magistrate would be withdrawn and s/he would be sent to judicial academy for training, a bench of Justices Sanjay KishanKaul and AhsanuddinAmanullah was told that courts across the country were not following SC Orders.
It is senior advocate SidharthLuthra, who is assisting the court as amicus curiae, who brought two orders passed in April to the court’s notice in which bail was rejected. In one case of a matrimonial dispute, a Sessions judge in Lucknow rejected the anticipatory bail plea of a man and his mother, father and brother despite the fact that they were not arrested during the probe. In another case, an accused suffering from cancer was denied bail by a CBI court in Ghaziabad.
Expressing acute disappointment, the bench said, “There are a large number of orders passed by judicial officers not in conformity with our order.”
Expressing deep anguish, the bench also said, “The judgment given by this court is the law of the land and it has to be followed. There does not arise any question of not following it. The situation is alarming in Uttar Pradesh. It is not being followed in many cases despite the verdict being delivered 10 months back.”
“Even after our last order on March 21, an order was passed by a Lucknow court in complete breach of our order… We bring this order to the notice of the Allahabad high court… The HC needed to take action and do the needful for upgradation of his skill in judicial academy,” the bench said. Observing that there was no place for this sort of police state in a democracy, where investigating agencies can arrest people unnecessarily and in a purely mechanical way, the top court had in July 2022 last year passed a slew of directions to put a curb on agencies from arresting people in cognisable offences punishable by up to seven years’ jail where custody is not needed. It had also asked courts to protect the liberty of people and be liberal in granting bail. It held that an accused who was not arrested during probe and cooperated in the investigation should not be taken into custody on filing of chargesheet.
“Criminal courts in general, with trial courts in particular, are the guardian angels of liberty. Liberty, as embedded in the Code, has to be preserved, protected and enforced by the criminal courts. Any conscious failure by the criminal courts would constitute an affront to liberty. It is the pious duty of the criminal court to zealously guard and keep a consistent vision in safeguarding the constitutional values and ethos,” the court had said in its July verdict.
The apex court also directed that training must be imparted to prosecutors so that they do not oppose bail pleas of an accused mechanically in violation of its order. It directed governments and prosecuting agencies, including the CBI, to make their prosecutors aware of the verdict so that they can take the right stand. It had specially asked the Allahabad HC chief justice to disseminate the verdict among judicial officers.
March 22 hearing of the case: Directions issued by the Supreme Court bench
During the last hearing in March 2023, the same Bench noted that the number of such under trial prisoners in Allahabad, Odisha, Assam, and Tamil Nadu was disproportionately high. Counsel for the Gauhati and Orissa High Courts had then assured the Bench that special measures would be taken to address the situation. At the time no representative from the Madras High Court appeared, hence the Bench directed that the Registrar be present on the next date of hearing. Concerning Allahabad, Justice Kaulhad mentioned that he had previously proposed a solution in another suo moto case. Justice Kaul has earlier opined that all persons who have completed 10 years of sentence, and whose appeals will not be heard in the near future, should be enlarged on bail, unless there are other reasons to deny them bail.
The Counsel appearing for the High Courts of Meghalaya and Uttarakhand informed the Bench that compliance reports had been filed with the court but that a copy had not been provided to the Amicus. None of the other two courts were represented. It is clear from this that several states have been used to defaulting from carrying out and following Supreme Court Orders.
Previous orders issued by the SC on bail
In March 2023, the three-Judge Bench headed by Justice Kaul was ascertaining the compliance of the directions issued by the States. In July last year, the Supreme Court stated that there is no place in a democracy for a police state in which investigating agencies can arrest people unnecessarily and mechanically, and it issued a slew of directives prohibiting agencies from arresting people in cognisable offences punishable by up to seven years in prison where custody is not required, and it also asked criminal courts to protect people’s liberty and be liberal in granting bail. It had also ruled that an accused who was not arrested during the investigation and cooperated with it should not be detained upon the filing of the charge sheet.
The bench, comprising of Justices SK Kaul and MM Sunderesh, had also expressed concerns at the large number of undertrials languishing in jails, and emphasised that the accused should not be remanded by judicial officers to police or jail custody in a mechanical manner. The judgment also suggested that the Union Government should bring a ‘Bail Act’ to streamline the process for granting bail. On the last occasion, the High Courts were also directed to undertake the exercise of finding out the under trial prisoners who are not able to comply with the bail conditions.
To date this has not happened.