Give priority to disposal of such cases, SC asks High Courts

In preventive detention cases affecting the personal liberty of a citizen, High Courts must take all efforts for early decision on the petitions challenging detention, the Supreme Court has suggested.

A Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi asked all High Courts to give priority for disposal of preventive detention matters and cases involving personal liberty.

Writing the judgment, Justice Sathasivam said: “When the detention period is one year or less, and more so after hearing the parties, the decision [after reserving judgment] must be known to the affected party without unreasonable delay.”

In the instant case, “we feel that keeping the writ petition pending after hearing the parties and compelling the detenu to wait for 5 months to know the result of his petition cannot be accepted,” said the Bench.

Baby Devassy Chully @ Bobby was detained for one year under the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act on May 3, 2005, even as he was in custody for alleged smuggling. Though he was granted bail, he could not avail himself of it and he remained in custody when the preventive detention order was passed.

Counsel K.K. Mani argued that since the appellant was in jail, there was no compelling necessity for detaining him under the COFEPOSA Act. Moreover, the Bombay High Court did not deliver the judgment on the writ petition challenging the detention for five months after the verdict was reserved. As a result, the detenu could not know the fate of his petition for five months when the detention period was one year.

The Bench, while deprecating the High Court’s action in not delivering the judgment for five months, said: “It is clear that if a person concerned is in custody and there is no imminent possibility of his being released, the rule is that the power of preventive detention should not be exercised.” However, in this case, “it is not in dispute that on April 12, 2005 itself the competent court granted bail but the appellant did not avail [himself of] such benefit. In other words, on the date of the detention order, i.e., May 3, 2005, by virtue of the order granting bail even on April 12, 2005, it would have been possible for the detenu to come out without any difficulty. Hence the detaining authority could not be faulted, the Bench held, dismissing the appeal against the High Court judgment.