Should we pre-judge? SC wonders as Kejriwal asks ‘why am I not free’

The apex court did not intervene immediately to lift a Delhi High Court order pausing the release of Delhi Chief Minister on bail and posts hearing to June 26; ED says trial court treated it as a ‘high-profile case’, HC to pronounce verdict on June 25

Updated - June 25, 2024 11:10 am IST

Published - June 24, 2024 03:00 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A file picture of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

A file picture of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. | Photo Credit: ANI

The Supreme Court on Monday did not intervene immediately to lift a Delhi High Court order pausing the release of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on bail.

Also Read: Arvind Kejriwal bail plea LIVE updates: Delhi High Court to pronounce verdict

Mr. Kejriwal, in turn, asked why his freedom has been curtailed despite a trial court upholding his personal liberty and granting him bail on June 20 in the excise policy case.

“If we pass an order, it would be like prejudging the issue,” Justice Manoj Misra, heading a Vacation Bench, observed on Monday.

“But why cannot I be free? The trial court judgment of June 20 is in my favour… This is a question of personal liberty. I am the Chief Minister of Delhi. I am not a flight risk nor am I going to abscond… How can bail, once granted, be stayed?” Mr. Kejriwal’s lawyer, senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, reacted.

The Directorate of Enforcement (ED), which had moved the High Court the very next day after the trial court granted bail to Mr. Kejriwal bail, said the High Court was scheduled to pronounce its judgment on June 25. The High Court had reserved its verdict on the ED appeal on June 21.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, for the ED, urged the apex court to wait for the High Court verdict on the appeal.

Agreeing, Justice Misra said it would be more appropriate to wait for the High Court to pronounce its judgment. It posted the case for June 26, though it had initially suggested having it next week.

“What will we pass an order on now? How do we know what the High Court has on its mind?” Justice Misra asked.

‘Quite unusual’

However, the Bench conceded that it was quite unusual for a High Court to reserve orders in a case affecting personal liberty.

“Normally orders are not reserved like this... It is a bit unusual, we will have it day after tomorrow,” Justice Misra remarked orally.

Mr. Singhvi wondered why the Supreme Court had to be so “deferential” to the High Court and wait for it to pass an order when the latter had, without even waiting for the trial court judgment to be uploaded, suspended Mr. Kejriwal’s bail.

“Bail granted is diverse from bail cancelled… It is unprecedented to pause a bail order on the very first day of hearing… The High Court passed an order of interim stay on the oral mentioning of Mr. Raju without even waiting for the trial court order to be uploaded… We should not have suffered a stay at all. This is a question of personal liberty,” Mr. Singhvi argued.

‘Balance of convenience’

Senior advocate Vikram Chaudhari, also for Mr. Kejriwal, said the “balance of convenience” was in favour of the Chief Minister. The trial court had used its judicial discretion to grant him bail on June 20. The trial judge had heard both sides in detail. The judgment records the submissions of the lawyers and reasons for grant of bail. There are more than five paragraphs devoted to the grounds for bail in the trial court judgment.

“There is a judicial pronouncement granting him bail under Section 45 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act… The Supreme Court had also granted him interim bail on May 10 to campaign for the Lok Sabha elections,” Mr. Chaudhari said.

He submitted that the apex court had in May specifically noted several factors in favour of Mr. Kejriwal, including that he had no criminal antecedents, and he was only arrested on March 21, 2024, nearly two years after the excise policy case was registered in August 2022.

Countering, Mr. Mehta said the trial judge had seen this as a high-profile case.

“Everybody is an aam aadmi before the court. The trial court continuously asked the ED to cut short its arguments. It did not go through the papers,” Mr. Mehta argued.

At one point, Mr. Singhvi asked the court how the ED “compensate me [Mr. Kejriwal] for loss of time in liberty”.

Hearing highlights | No immediate relief for Arvind Kejriwal, Supreme Court to hear plea against HC’s stay on bail on June 26

Also read | Arvind Kejriwal’s judicial custody extended till July 3 in Delhi excise policy case

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