Denial of bail hearing is a breach of rights, says Supreme Court
Asserting that denial of a bail hearing is a breach of an accused person’s rights, the Supreme Court has said at least half the number of judges should sit in high courts on alternate days during the pandemic and attend to matters of urgency and individual liberty.
A bench of justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian lamented that cases relating to life and liberty of the accused were not being listed for hearing in some of the high courts due to non-availability of judges.
“Under the prevailing pandemic, at least half of the judges should sit on alternative days so that hearing is accorded to the person in distress. Non-listing of application for regular bail, irrespective of seriousness or lack thereof, of the offences attributed to the accused, impinges upon the liberty of the person in custody,” said the bench in its order on Tuesday.
The court was hearing a petition by Goraya-based industrialist Chuni Lal Gaba, who has been named in a money laundering case linked with the ₹6,000 crore synthetic drug racket masterminded by former deputy superintendent of police Jagdish Bhola in Punjab.
Senior advocate Vikram Chaudhri, representing Gaba, submitted before the bench that his client’s bail application has been pending before the Punjab and Haryana high court since February 28, 2020. The petition in the apex court was against an order of the high court on April 29 turning down a request for expeditious hearing of Gaba’s bail plea .
Chaudhry added that although his client was 73 and suffered from several ailments, the high court showed no urgency in considering the bail plea and after almost 20 adjournments since February 2020, the matter has now been listed for August 21.
At this, the bench said it was “shocked” to come across the facts of the case. “Normally, we do not interfere with an interim order passed by the high court but we are constrained to pass the present order as we are shocked to see that the bail application under Section 439 CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) is not being listed for hearing for more than one year. The accused has a right to hearing of his application for bail. In fact, the denial of hearing is an infringement of right and liberty assured to an accused,” the order stated.
It underlined that “even during the pandemic, when all courts are making attempts to hear and decide all matters, non-listing of such an application for bail defeats the administration of justice” and impinged upon the liberty of the person in custody.
The bench then added that at least half the number of judges should sit on alternate days during the week to make certain that people had access to the justice delivery system in urgent matters.
It said that the registrar general of the Punjab and Haryana high court will bring the Supreme Court’s order to the notice of the competent authority to take remedial steps at the earliest.
On Gaba’s plea, the court said: “We hope that the high court will be able to take up the application for bail at an early date so that the right of the accused of hearing of application for bail is not taken away by not entertaining such application on the mentioning memo.”
As Chaudhry thanked the bench for addressing the situation, justice Gupta retorted: “Since I belong to the same high court (Punjab and Haryana), I know the problems there.”
The vacation benches in the Supreme Court sit two days a week during the court holidays. Additionally, special bench matters are taken up occasionally