Supreme Court: In a writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, the petitioner sought bail orders for her husband (‘accused’), the Division-Bench of Krishna Murari* and C.T. Ravikumar, J.J., allowed the petition and the interim bail order was made absolute and held that a chargesheet cannot be filed by an investigating agency without completing the investigation of the case, only to deprive an arrested person of his right to default bail under Section 167(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (‘CrPC’).
An FIR was lodged under Section 120(B) read with Section 420 of the Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’) along with Sections 7, 12 and 13(2) read with Section 13(1)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, wherein the accused was not named. Subsequently, two supplementary chargesheets were filed, wherein the accused was made a prosecution witness in the supplementary chargesheet dated 26-05-2020. Multiple other supplementary chargesheets were later filed, and the accused was not named in any of the chargesheets. Later, the investigation was transferred to another investigating officer, and the accused was then arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (‘CBI’)/ Investigation Agency and was remanded to custody on 28-04-2022. Multiple other supplementary chargesheets were filed, wherein the accused was named as a suspect, and the accused was remanded under Section 309(2) of the CrPC and was never released on default bail.
Subsequently, the petitioner sought bail for the accused, and the Court passed an interim bail order on 20-02-2023. However, the accused remained in custody, thus, the petitioner filed the present writ, considering the denial of relief of default bail.
Analysis, Law and Decision
The Court perused Section 167 of the CrPC and said that the said provision was enacted to ensure that the investigating agencies completes the investigation within the prescribed time limit, failing which no accused could be detained if they are willing to avail bail. The Court said that object behind the enactment of Section 167 of CrPC was to ensure that the investigation agencies complete the investigation within the prescribed period of 60 or 90 days and if the investigation is not complete within the said period, the right to bail cannot be denied to the accused.
The Court relied on the legal position reiterated in Satender Kumar Antil v. CBI, (2021) 10 SCC 773, wherein it was held that Section 167(2) of the CrPC is a limb of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, and the investigating authority is under a constitutional duty to expediate the process of investigation within the stipulated time, failing which, the accused is entitled to be released on default bail.
Therefore, the Court said that the practice of filing preliminary reports before the enactment of the present CrPC has now taken the form of filing chargesheets without actually completing the investigation, only to scuttle the right of default bail. Further the Court said that if it was held that the chargesheets can be filed without completing the investigation, and the same can be used for prolonging remand, it would negate the purpose of introducing section 167(2) of the CrPC and would violate the fundamental rights guaranteed to accused persons.
The Court answered the following issues:
Can a chargesheet or a prosecution complaint be filed in piecemeal without first completing the investigation of the case?
The Court said that without completing the investigation of a case, a chargesheet or prosecution complaint cannot be filed by an investigating agency only to deprive an arrested accused of his right to default bail under Section 167(2) of the CrPC.
Whether the filing of such a chargesheet without completing the investigation will extinguish the right of an accused for grant of default bail?
Whether the remand of an accused can be continued by the Trial Court during the pendency of investigation beyond the stipulated time as prescribed by the CrPC?
The Court said that the Trial Court, in such cases, cannot continue to remand an arrested person beyond the maximum stipulated time without offering the arrested person default bail.
Therefore, the Court noted that in the present case it was clear that during the pendency of the investigation, supplementary chargesheets were filed by the Investigation Agency just before the expiry of 60 days, with the purpose of scuttling the right to default bail accrued to the accused. The Court said that the Trial Court had missed this fact, and instead of granting default bail to the accused, the Trial Court had accepted the incomplete chargesheets filed by the Investigating Agency, and further continued the remand of the accused beyond specified maximum period in Section 167 CrPC. The Investigating Agency and the Trial Court, thus, failed to observe the mandate of law, and acted arbitrarily, violating the fundamental rights guaranteed to the accused.
Thus, the interim bail order passed in favor of the accused was made absolute by the Court.
[Ritu Chhabaria v. Union of India, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 502, Decided on 26-04-2023]
*Judgment Authored by: Justice Krishna Murari