Sessions Court Rejects Anticipatory Bail? You may Still be Protected for 72 Hours


Introduction


Personal liberty and the rule of law find their rightful place under Articles 21 and 22 of the Constitution of India, which include measures against arbitrary and indefinite detention. Even with the option of an elaborate judicial procedure to deal with matters regarding grant of bail, the system is somehow unable to meet the parameters of an archetypal system, giving rise to the notion that the bail system is unpredictable[1].

 

Recently, the Bombay High Court in Sameer Narayanrao Paltewar v. State of Maharashtra[2] (Paltewar judgment) has reiterated the mandate of the law to protect accused persons against the “incalculable harm to the reputation and self-esteem of a person”[3] caused by an arrest.

 

A peculiar provision of law dealing with the grant of anticipatory bail under Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC) allows the State to make an application requesting the presence of the accused applicant seeking anticipatory bail at the time of final hearing of the Anticipatory Bail Application (‘ABA’) and passing of final order by the relevant court. The same law also authorises the court to compel the presence of such accused if the court considers it “necessary in the interest of justice”. The obvious problem with this provision is that if the ABA is rejected, the police not only can locate, but may also arrest  the accused.

 

While interpreting the powers under Section 438(4) of the CrPC (as exercised by the Sessions Court), the Bombay High Court has now directed that while orders mandating physical presence at final hearing may be passed, the Sessions Court should also ensure that should the ABA be rejected at such final hearing, the applicant shall be protected against arrest for a stipulated period to allow him/her time to approach the High Court and re-agitate a request for anticipatory bail.

 


Backdrop


Prior to 1973, criminal procedure in India[4] did not envisage the concept of ‘anticipatory bail’/’bail apprehending arrest’. The Law Commission of India in its 41st Report on the CrPC first identified the necessity for provisions regarding grant of anticipatory bail as:

 

“[…] sometimes influential persons try to implicate their rivals in false causes for the purpose of disgracing them or for other purposes by getting them detained in jail for some days. […] Apart from false cases, where there are reasonable grounds […], there seems no justification to require [an accused person] first to submit to custody, remain in prison for some days and then apply for bail.”[5]

 

The initial idea of providing for anticipatory bail was to avoid the situation where a person needed to obtain a bail after being arrested, even while reasonable grounds existed for the same prior to arrest. In 1973, Sections 436, 437 and 439 of the CrPC dealing with the grant of bail were streamlined and the new provision of Section 438 of the CrPC for anticipatory bail was introduced.

 

It is only through judicial interpretation that the law in relation to anticipatory bail (and bail in general) was thereafter developed to align itself with the constitutional objectives of protecting personal liberty and to strike a fine equilibrium between the “freedom of person” and “interest of social order”.

 

While Section 438 of the CrPC originally read to allow the High Court or Sessions Court to grant anticipatory bail at their discretion, it intentionally did not prescribe standards or thresholds for the same. The law on anticipatory bail has since been modified to provide for various aspects, with the State of Maharashtra amending the CrPC (as it applies to Maharashtra) in 1993 to include sub-section (4) to Section 438, which states as follows:

(1-B) The presence of the applicant seeking anticipatory bail shall be obligatory at the time of final hearing of the application and passing of final order by the court, if on an application made to it by the Public Prosecutor, the court considers such presence necessary in the interest of justice.

 

For the rest of India, Section 438 of the CrPC has since been amended[6] to include sub-section (1-B) which incorporates the identical language as above.

 


Paltewar judgment – Brief overview


The case arises out of a dispute between the applicant and the original complainant, who were directors of a company operating a hospital. The original complainant filed a complaint against the applicant for offences punishable under Sections 406, 409, 420, 465, 467, 468 and 471 of the Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) and Section 66-C of the Information Technology Act, 2000.

 

During the investigation into such complaint, the applicant had filed an ABA before the Sessions Court, Nagpur. In such an ABA, the Public Prosecutor moved an application seeking presence of the applicant in the Sessions Court at the time of final hearing of the anticipatory bail application and the same was allowed.

 

Aggrieved by the order of the Sessions Court in granting the request of the prosecution and compelling his personal presence at the final hearing, the applicant accused filed an application under Section 482 of the CrPC before the Bombay High Court invoking its inherent jurisdiction.

 

The main issue that arose for determination before the Bombay High Court was in relation to the fate of an accused in the State of Maharashtra who is directed to remain present in the Sessions Court pursuant to a direction under Section 438(4) of the CrPC (as it applies to Maharashtra), and the consequences that may arise if such application for anticipatory bail is rejected.

 


Interim protection


While the applicant had been granted interim protection under Section 438(1) of the CrPC by the Sessions Court, the Bombay High Court further granted interim protection stating that if the ABA before the Sessions Court is rejected during the pendency of the High Court proceedings, then the interim protection granted against arrest would extend for a further period of 72 hours to allow the applicant to approach the High Court.

 

However, while such interim order effectively protected the applicant, the Bombay High Court proceeded with the hearing in the matter as a substantial question of law was involved.

 

In its analysis of Section 438(4) of the CrPC (as applicable in Maharashtra), at the outset, the Bombay High Court reiterated that an order directing an accused person to appear at the final hearing can be passed only when interim protection is already operating in favour of an accused[7].

 

The Paltewar[8] judgment recorded that in case the applicant is not granted interim protection in an ABA and the Sessions Court still directs him/her to remain present in the court on the date fixed for final hearing, by virtue of proviso to sub-section (1), it is open for the investigating officer to effect arrest of the applicant. The direction under sub-section (4), if considered as an independent and irrespective of interim protection, will prove to be a mouse trap and not a protection of personal liberty of the citizen. Being under the directions of the court, the applicant would be obliged to proceed towards the court while the investigating officer can wait at the entrance gate of the court premises.[9]

 


Analysis on Section 438(4) of the CrPC


At the outset, the Bombay High Court has clarified that Section 438(4) of the CrPC has already passed constitutional muster inter alia in Vijaya Ramesh Ramdasi v. State of Maharashtra[10] and Goyappa Jalagiri v. State of Maharashtra[11]. While dealing with the same, however, the Bombay High Court clearly observed that applications seeking personal presence of an accused cannot be moved callously by the prosecution neither can it be routinely allowed by the Sessions Court. It was further observed that a direction under Section 438(4) of the CrPC can be issued seeking the presence of the accused before the court at the stage of final hearing of the application but only if the accused’s interim order of protection from arrest was in operation.

 

Understanding the lacunae from the point of view of an accused, the Bombay High Court relied on State of Maharashtra v. Kachrusingh Santaramsingh Rajput[12] and catena of other Supreme Court judgments to state that the very purpose of introducing Section 438 in the CrPC, and the new form in which it was brought into force in the State of Maharashtra, was to strike a balance between the interest of the State to investigate through police into offences according to established procedure of law and the individual liberties of a person accused of serious crimes.[13]

 

In the Paltewar[14] judgment, the Bombay High Court also observed that when the Sessions Court allows an application that seeks the presence of the accused, it should provide sufficient reasons for allowing the same. The Sessions Court’s reasons must elaborate why the presence of the accused was important in the “interest of justice”, for example, specifying if there was possibility of absconding by the accused, etc.

 

The court further threw light on the expression “in the interest of justice” by stating that it has to be construed in the interest of both the prosecution as well as the accused and the court is obliged to strike a balance between the interests of the two. As the same was not done in the Paltewar[15] judgment, the Bombay High Court had quashed and set aside the order allowing the applicant’s presence.

 


Right to approach the High Court


It is well settled now that both the High Court and the Sessions Court have concurrent jurisdiction to deal with ABAs for directions under Section 438 of the CrPC and it is open to a person to move either of these two courts. It is, however, a generally accepted practice, as recorded in the Paltewar[16] judgment, to approach first the Sessions Court and thereafter the High Court for such relief.

 

Where a person chooses to move the Sessions Court in the first instance, a revision will lie in the High Court against the order of the Sessions Court on the application for issue of directions under Section 438 of the CrPC.

 

It is in light of this statutory intention, that the Bombay High Court stated that in the absence of any interim order of protection operating in favour of the accused during pendency of the application for anticipatory bail before the Sessions Court, the right available to the accused to move the High Court will stand frustrated if he/she is arrested and such arrest will obviously be facilitated by the direction of the Sessions Court under Section 438(4) of the CrPC[17]

 

In light of the above, even though the order under Section 438(4) of the CrPC (as applicable in Maharashtra) in the Paltewar[18] judgment was set aside, the Bombay High Court put down the following guidelines for Sessions Courts to follow when passing such orders:

 

(a) While filing the application under Section 438(4) of the CrPC (Maharashtra Amendment), the prosecutor has to state cogent reasons while seeking the obligatory presence of the accused before the Sessions Court at the time of final hearing of the ABA.

(b) The Sessions Court shall consider the application by the prosecutor and pass a reasoned order as to why the presence of the accused is necessary “in the interest of justice” at the time of final hearing of an ABA.

(c) If the Sessions Court rejects the application, it shall mandatorily extend the interim protection operating in favour of the accused for a minimum period of three (3) working days on the same conditions on which interim protection was granted during pendency of an ABA or on such further conditions as the Sessions Court may deem fit, in the interest of justice.

(d) If the Sessions Court considers it appropriate to grant extension of protection for more than three (3) working days, it shall record the reasons for the same, but in any event, it should not be more than seven (7) days.

(e) The accused should abide by the conditions imposed by the Sessions Court while granting extension of interim protection, failing which such interim protection shall cease to operate instantly.

 


Conclusion


The Paltewar[19] judgment expands on a very important point under the jurisprudence in relation to bails, specifically anticipatory bails. It is seen in a lot of cases that the accused, who is facing a potential arrest, is not provided with a protective order for a reasonable period of time when the presence under Section 438(4) of the CrPC is sought by the Sessions Court. With freedom jeopardised, the accused is pushed closer to a probable arrest.

 

The Paltewar[20] judgment has now made it mandatory to protect the applicant against any untoward impact of such requirement to be personally present, which would give a lot of security to the public at large.

 


† Partner, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas.

†† Principal Associate, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas.

††† Associate, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas.

[1] Government of India, Law Commission of India, Report No. 268 Amendments to Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 Provisions Relating Bail, 23-5-2017.

[2] 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 2192.

[3] Joginder Kumar v. State of U.P., (1994) 4 SCC 260.

[4] Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.

[5] Government of India, Law Commission of India, 41st Report, The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 – Volume I, dated 24-9-1969 at Para 39.9.

[6] Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2005, S. 38, with effect from 23-6-2006.

[7] Vijaya Ramesh Ramdasi v. State of Maharashtra, Bombay High Court, Criminal Application No. 569 of 2001,

decided on 20-3-2001 .

[8] 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 2192.

[9] 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 2192.

[10] Criminal Application No. 569 of 2001.

[11] Criminal Application No. 4370 of 2004.

[12] 1994 SCC OnLine Bom 73 : (1994) 3 Bom CR 348.

[13] 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 2192, para 17.

[14] 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 2192.

[15] 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 2192.

[16] 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 2192.

[17] 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 2192, para 26.

[18] 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 2192.

[19] 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 2192.

[20] 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 2192.

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