Supreme Court to examine whether bail can be denied on ground of gravity of offence

The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to examine whether trial courts or High Courts could deny bail in high profile cases simply on the ground of “gravity of offence,” contrary to the earlier dictum “bail is the rule, jail is an exception.”

A Bench of Justices Altamas Kabir, S.S. Nijjar and Jasti Chelameswar accepted the plea of senior counsel Ranjit Kumar and Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Ashok Kumar Sinha, an associate of the former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda, detained for offences under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act and the Indian Penal Code.

Mr. Ranjit Kumar said his client had been in jail for more than two years, whereas the minimum sentence for the alleged offence was three years and the maximum, seven years. Of late trial courts had not been granting bail in high profile cases, some of which “are media-driven and judges are afraid of their confidential reports needed for promotion.” In this case, though the charge sheet had been filed more than a year ago, trial was yet to start and his client was denied bail.

Denial of rights

Mr. Ranjit Kumar said trial judges were also afraid because questions were asked on the basis of prosecution statements reported in the media. “All principles hitherto followed in grant of bail in cases involving up to five or seven years' imprisonment are not being followed by the trial judges. A serious situation has arisen as a result of denial of bail to the accused, who also have fundamental rights.”

The gravity of offence was immaterial for grant of bail. “Whether it is a serious crime, whether it is the money laundering Act or any other law, the principles to be followed in grant of bail are one and the same as per the Criminal Procedure Code.” When these principles were not followed, it would amount to throwing a serious challenge to the rights of the accused. It was time a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court clearly laid down the law for all courts to follow so that the rights of the accused are not trampled upon and a message was sent to the trial courts, Mr. Ranjit Kumar said.

Mr. Rohatgi said the provisions of Section 437 Cr.PC. were not being followed nowadays. All bail cases were not uniform and same yardstick could not be applied to deny bail.

Additional Solicitor-General Harin Raval, while opposing bail in this case involving money laundering to the tune of Rs. 1,200 crore, said he would place all facts for the court's consideration.

The Bench posted to December 12 the hearing of the bail application, and to January 18, 2012 the final hearing for deciding the larger question of bail.

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