A few days after the Delhi High Court asked a lower court judge to “go back to school”, stating that he lacked even elementary knowledge of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), it is the turn of the Supreme Court to now rap the knuckles of the members of the judiciary. In both cases, the reason for the judges’ ire was, incidentally, the same: the arbitrary issuance of non-bailable warrant.
Additional Sessions Judge Rakesh Tewari of the Karkardooma courts had faced the Delhi High Court’s wrath for ignoring its order and issuing a ‘non-bailable’ warrant against a man for the minor offence of electricity theft. It is precisely against such a “casual and mechanical” manner of issuing warrants, both bailable and non-bailable, that the apex court has now ruled. Rather, it was a crash course on the topic that the judiciary got from the Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan, Justice RV Raveendran and Justice Dalveer Bhandari.
That this was a lecture that judges should have paid attention to at the training level should give us — common citizens who are more or less dependent, in our chase for justice, on the merit of the individuals who make up this institution — cause for some worry. Now, it is only to be hoped the apex court’s efforts don’t go to waste. The Supreme Court has soundly made an argument for balancing the constitutional right to personal liberty with the need to safeguard the interests of society. In the do’s and don’ts that it has listed on issuing warrants, it reminds the judiciary that they can’t act in an arbitrary fashion. Any final opinion should have its basis on the due processes of law and be taken after careful scrutiny of all available facts.
In such cases, it would be worthwhile for judges to keep in mind the tenet, ‘innocent till proved guilty’. We already have an abnormally large number of undertrials languishing in prison for years, some whose bail has been denied, and others who cannot afford to pay bail. Yet, the CrPC contains provisions for courts to grant bail to even those accused of certain non-bailable offences, excluding those inviting the death penalty. This is, of course, subject to conditions such as the antecedents of the accused, his willingness to cooperate with the investigation and trial, and that his freedom will not result in any further disturbances to law and order. Clearly, the emphasis is on keeping individual rights intact, as long as they don’t interfere with those of others. Let’s only hope that in future such cases, our judges will have done their homework well.