COVID-19| SC’s March 23 order on extension of limitation not applicable to the period of filing charge sheet under Section 167(2) CrPC

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah, JJ has held that it’s order dated 23.03.2020, wherein the Court had extended limitation period of appeals from high courts or tribunals on account of COVID-19 pandemic, cannot be read to mean that it ever intended to extend the period of filing charge sheet by police as contemplated under Section 167(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Setting aside the Madras High Court judgment, where it was had held that the Supreme Court order dated 23.03.2020 eclipsed all provisions prescribing period of limitation until further orders, including the time prescribed under Section 167(2) of the code of Criminal Procedure, the bench said,

“neither this Court in its order dated 23.03.2020 can be held to have eclipsed the time under Section 167(2) CrPC nor the restrictions which have been imposed during the lockdown announced by the Government shall operate as any restriction on the rights of an accused as protected by Section 167(2) regarding his indefeasible right to get a default bail on non-submission of charge sheet within the time prescribed.”

On 23.03.2020, the Court had extended the limitation for filing petitions/ applications/ suits/ appeals/all other proceedings to obviate lawyers/litigants to come physically to file such proceedings in respective Courts/Tribunals. The Court, in the present order explained that the said order was passed to protect the litigants/lawyers whose petitions/ applications/ suits/ appeals/all other proceedings would become time barred they being not able to physically come to file such proceedings. The order was for the benefit of the litigants who have to take remedy in law as per the applicable statute for a right.

“When this Court passed the above order for extending the limitation for filing petitions/ applications/ suits/ appeals/all other proceedings, the order was for the benefit of those who have to take remedy, whose remedy may be barred by time because they were unable to come physically to file such proceedings.”

Stating that the scheme of Code of Criminal Procedure clearly delineates that provisions of Section 167 of Code of Criminal Procedure gives due regard to the personal liberty of a person, the Court explained that without submission of charge sheet within 60 days or 90 days as may be applicable, an accused cannot be detained by the Police. The provision gives due recognition to the personal liberty.

Noticing that the law of limitation bars the remedy but not the right, the Court said that the Investigating Officer in the present case could have submitted/filed the charge sheet before the (Incharge) Magistrate. Therefore, even during the lockdown and as has been done in so many cases the charge-sheet could have been filed/submitted before the Magistrate (Incharge) and the Investigating Officer was not precluded from filing/submitting the charge-sheet even within the stipulated period before the Magistrate (Incharge).

On High Court’s opinion that the lockdown announced by the Government is akin to proclamation of Emergency, the Court said,

“The view of the learned Single Judge that the restrictions, which have been imposed during period of lockdown by the Government of India should not give right to an accused to pray for grant of default bail even though charge sheet has not been filed within the time prescribed under Section 167(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, is clearly erroneous and not in accordance with law.”

It is pertinent to note that another bench of Madras High Court had, in Settu v. State, Crl.OP(MD)No. 5291 of 2020, already considered the judgment of this Court dated 23.03.2020 and noticing that personal liberty is too precious a fundamental right, it had held,

“The noble object of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s direction is to ensure that no litigant is deprived of his valuable rights. But, if I accept the plea of the respondent police, the direction of the Hon’ble Supreme Court which is intended to save and preserve rights would result in taking away the valuable right that had accrued to the accused herein.”

The single judge in the impugned judgment before the Court had called the above mentioned Madras High Court order uncharitable. On this the Court said that the impugned judgment is not only erroneous but also sends wrong signals to the State and the prosecution emboldening them to act in breach of liberty of a person. It, further, said that all Courts including the High Courts and the Supreme Court have to follow a principle of Comity of Courts. A Bench whether coordinate or Larger, has to refrain from making any uncharitable observation on a decision even though delivered by a Bench of a lesser coram.

“A Bench sitting in a Larger coram may be right in overturning a judgment on a question of law, which jurisdiction a Judge sitting in a coordinate Bench does not have. In any case, a Judge sitting in a coordinate Bench or a Larger Bench has no business to make any adverse comment or uncharitable remark on any other judgment.”

[S. Kasi v. State, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 529 , decided on 19.06.2020]


Also read:

COVID-19| SC extends limitation period for filing petitions/applications/suits/appeals, etc.

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