Can a bail application be filed before the High Court directly without moving the jurisdictional sessions court earlier?

A single Judge of the Madras High Court has directed the Registry to place the matter before the Chief Justice to constitute a larger Bench to answer the question.

In his petition, former DMK Minister Veerapandi S. Arumugam, who has been arrested by the Central Crime Branch, Salem city, in a case relating to alleged land grabbing, has sought permission to file a petition for bail before the High Court directly.

The petitioner has been arrested for offences including those under sections 147 (rioting), 447 (criminal trespass), 506 (i) (criminal intimidation) and 386 IPC (extortion by putting a person in fear of death or grievous hurt.) He was remanded to judicial custody by the Judicial Magistrate, Salem, on July 30.

Petitioner's counsel N. Jothi said that an application for bail could be moved before the High Court directly. The power under section 439 Cr.P.C (Special powers of High Court or Court of Session regarding bail) was concurrent both on the sessions court and the High Court.

Therefore, there was no need to first approach the sessions court and, in the event of dismissal of the application, move the High Court.

Justice T. Sudanthiram said though different courts had taken different views regarding the modalities of entertaining bail applications, the fact that uniformity should be maintained could not be undermined. The Cr.P.C. being a procedural law, it could not be expected to contain the procedure in respect of every situation.

So far as the Madras High Court was concerned, it was a long-standing practice for decades to insist on the accused to approach either the jurisdictional magistrate or sessions court before moving the high court. This was a sort of regulation and could not be stated to be unreasonable in any sense infringing on the citizen's liberty. If this practice was dispensed with and the court started entertaining bail petitions straightaway, there would be a flood of such petitions making it impossible for it to transact business.

The court's present practice, which had taken the shape of procedure regulating the conduct of business of this court could not be stated to be unreasonable and may be continued.

However, the practice was against the views expressed by other High Courts. In the above circumstances, any decision regarding maintainability may have a vast impact and far-reaching consequences.

As the question involved in the petition was of public importance, in his considered opinion it needed to be examined by a larger Bench, preferably a Full Bench, Mr. Justice Sudanthiram said.