Magistrates can’t push UAPA charge sheet deadline: SC
The Supreme Court on Tuesday lay down an important proposition of law, holding that a judicial magistrate is not competent to extend the time period for filing of a charge sheet in a case registered under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967.
A three-judge bench, headed by justice Uday U Lalit, said that only a special court designated under UAPA will be authorised to deal with the issue of extending the time for filing of charge sheets in such cases.
The order would also imply that a magistrate is not competent to extend the remand of an accused in UAPA cases.
According to the bench, which also included justices S Ravindra Bhat and Bela M Trivedi, a “court” under the UAPA has to be construed as a special court, or a sessions court in the absence of a special court, and it cannot include a “magistrate” as mentioned under Section 167 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
The Supreme Court also turned down a suggestion by amicus curiae (friend of the court) and additional solicitor general SV Raju to refer the issue to a larger bench of five judges for an authoritative interpretation of what a “court” would mean.
“In so far as time to complete investigation is concerned, a magistrate will not be within his jurisdiction to extend the time for filing of the charge sheet...such a power is non-existent,” held the bench, adding the only competent authority to consider the request in terms of UAPA will be a special court or a sessions court, in absence of a notification for a special court.
The bench was hearing an appeal filed by four accused, who were denied bail by a court in Bhopal in March 2014 on the grounds that a magistrate extended the time for filing of charge sheet in their case from 90 days to 180 days. The Madhya Pradesh high court upheld this order in September 2017.
Filing of the charge sheet was directly connected to grant of bail in the case. The accused wanted default bail on the grounds that the police failed to conclude its probe and submit a charge sheet within the stipulated period of 90 days.
Appearing for the accused, senior counsel Siddharth Dave contested the order of extension of time, contending that a judicial magistrate is not competent to examine a request for extension of time in UAPA cases. Dave added that “court” had to be understood in light of Section 2(1)(d) of UAPA which means a court which can try such cases whereas a magistrate cannot try UAPA cases.
Called to assist the court, ASG Raju, however, said that a magistrate is equally entitled to extend the time period for a charge sheet. Raju emphasised that Section 167 of the CrPC stands modified by Section 43D(2)(b) of UAPA, which entitles a court to give time to investigators the maximum period of 180 days for filing the charge sheet instead of usual 90 days.
The ASG said that a “court” has to mean a court under CrPC and would therefore, include even a magistrate for the purpose of extending time for filing a charge sheet. He said that a magistrate’s order of extending a remand will also be a perfectly valid order since UAPA mentions only the “court” and not a “special court” or a “designated court”.
He also said that the definition of a “court” has not been properly examined in light of Section 167 of CrPC by the Supreme Court in its 2020 judgment in Bikramjit Singh’s case, and hence, the issue requires to be referred to a five-judge bench for determination.
But the bench said that the issues being raised are covered by the 2020 judgment and there is no need to refer the matter to a larger bench.
In the facts of the case, the court granted bail to the four accused after holding that the magistrate’s order of extending the time period is not a valid order and therefore, the accused are entitled to default bail.