The Supreme Court has ruled that the right to apply for bail is an individual right implicit in Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution, and that blanket orders issued by a single judge of the Rajasthan High Court to not list applications for bail and suspension of sentence as urgent matters during the lockdown are unconstitutional.
Individuals’ Fundamental Rights would be suspended, and those seeking liberty would be unable to request for bail, according to the Court.
The observations were made by a bench consisting of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose while delivering the judgement in special leave petitions filed against orders of the Rajasthan High Court directing the Registry not to list bails, appeals, applications for suspension of sentence in appeals, and revisions as extreme urgent matters. A directive issued by the single bench this year to the Registry not to list applications for anticipatory bail in offences with maximum sentences of up to three years during the Court’s summer vacation was also challenged.
The Rajasthan High Court itself challenged these orders in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court stated, “Such an order also has the effect of temporarily overriding legislative restrictions.” While noting that the High Court issued the blanket order without following the legal procedure, the Bench also noted that the blanket order prohibiting the listing of bail applications or applications for sentence suspension in appeals also violates the right to personal liberty of incarcerated people.
“Such a privilege has been taken away by judicial order, without conformity with statutory procedure, which in our constitutional jurisprudence is analogous to the “due process” dictum,” the Bench wrote. “The freedom to seek for bail is an individual right enshrined in Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution,” Justice Bose wrote in his decision. The Court further noted that Sections 439, 438, and 389 of the 1973 Criminal Procedure Code recognise the right of an accused, an undertrial prisoner, or a convicted person awaiting an appellate court’s verdict to request bail on suspension of punishment.
The Bench also deemed it unlawful for the Single Judge to make a broad conclusion that bail applications, SC/ST Act appeals, and applications for suspension of sentence in appeals and revisions could not be regarded matters of extraordinary urgency where there is complete lockdown. “Such broad orders would be antithetical to law in our adversarial adjudicatory system,” the Bench stated, “since many people would be affected by such rulings without even being aware of the proceeding.”
The Bench voiced its displeasure of both the orders of limits on arrest and the listing of bail applications made by a single bench of the High Court while pronouncing its judgement. “The directives issued had the potential to violate the constitutional and legal rights of those who could be or are arraigned in criminal action, as well as place restrictions on the investigative agencies’ power,” the Bench noted.