SUPREME COURT HOLDS THAT THE ACCUSED’S RIGHT TO BAIL IS SUPERIOR OVER THE STATE’S RIGHT TO INVESTIGATION

The Supreme Court has in a recent case of M Ravindran vs The Intelligence Officer, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence passed a Judgment dated 26-10-2020, where the Apex Court reiterated that the right of an #accused to be granted #bail is a statutory right and that such a right precedes over the #right of an #investigation agency to complete the investigation and submit a #chargesheet.

In this case, the Appellant-Accused was arrested and remanded to judicial custody for certain offences under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (the NDPS Act) on 04-08-2018. Upon completion of 180 days of remand in judicial custody i.e. on 31-01-2019, the Appellant-Accused filed an Application for Bail under Section 167 (2) Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 (#CrPC) before the Special Court of Chennai that was constituted to try cases under the #NDPS Act. The ground for applying for bail was that the investigation agency had not completed the investigation within the statutory period of 180 days and that they had not filed a charge sheet till then. Thus, the Trial Court granted Bail on 05-02-2019.

Aggrieved, the Respondent-Investigation Agency filed a Petition in the Hon’ble High Court of Madras seeking cancellation of the said Bail, which was allowed by the High Court.

Aggrieved, the Appellant-Accused filed an Appeal before the Supreme Court. The Apex Court made the following observations in this case:

1- That Section 36A (4) of the NDPS Act read with Section 43D (2) (b) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (the UAP Act) and Section 167 (2) CrPC provides that in case of offences punishable under the said laws, in the event that the investigation is not completed within 90 days, the court may, if it is satisfied with the progress of the investigation, further extend the period up to 180 days.

2- Further, the prosecution may make an application for extension of time beyond the 180 days period, for filing the final report of investigation before the Special Court under the NDPS Act and the Court may allow extension of time up to one year, if so required.

3- But in this case, the Public Prosecutor had not filed any such application for extension beyond the 180 days period.

4- In fact, the Public Prosecutor waited for completion of the said 180 days period and then filed an Additional Complaint against the Appellant-Accused on the same day when the Application for Bail was filed by the Accused. The intention of the State/the Investigation Agency behind such delayed action was to ensure that the Accused remains in custody for an extended period of time.

5- But the Apex Court herein reiterated and held that such a practice cannot be allowed as it would defeat the statutory right of the Accused to be released on bail under Section 167 (2) CrPC.

6- That by filing an Application under Section 167 (2) CrPC read with Section 36A (4) of the NDPS Act upon expiry of the stipulated time limit of 180 days, the Accused is deemed to have exercised his right to be released on default bail. Therefore, the Court should release him on bail without unnecessary delay.

7- This would ensure that the Prosecution does not frustrate the legislative mandate of release of the Accused on bail under Section 167 (2) CrPC, in case of a default by the Investigation Agency.

Thus, the Supreme Court held that a statute should be interpreted in a manner that leans towards protecting the statutory rights of the Accused and thus, directed the release of the Accused on Bail, provided that he complies with the terms and conditions of the said Bail. The Apex Court further set aside the High Court Judgment and upheld the Trial Court Judgment.

Harini Daliparthy

Senior Legal Associate

The Indian Lawyer

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