Arnab Goswami
Arnab Goswami
File Photo

NEW DELHI: Delving into a celebrated 1977 judgment by then Supreme Court judge Justice Krishna Iyer -- which laid down that "bail, not jail" is the cardinal rule of the criminal justice system -- a 2-judge Bench on Friday directed all high courts and the district judiciary to "enforce this principle in practice and not forego that duty."

The bench comprising Justices Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee said it was only reiterating the law to help "countless other faces whose voices should not go unheard, as there is a pressing need for courts across the judicial hierarchy in India to remedy the institutional problem of bail applications not being heard and disposed of with expedition."

In a detailed 55-page judgment, reserved on November 11 in the Arnab Goswami arrest case, the court further expanded the relief granted to him and two colleagues it ordered to be released on interim bail. It has given them four weeks to challenge any adverse order by the Bombay High Court in the alleged 2018 suicide case of Mumbai interior designer Anvay Naik.

The Bench said the interim protection granted to them on November 11 "shall continue to remain in operation pending the disposal of the proceedings before the High Court and thereafter for a period of four weeks from the date of the judgment of the High Court, should it become necessary for all or any of them to take further recourse to their remedies in accordance with law."

While the Bombay High Court was pulled up on November 11 for rejecting their interim bail, the significance of the verdict lies in its focus on the bail applications, noting from the National Judicial Data Grid, whose data is in public domain, that 91,568 bail applications were pending before the High Courts and 1,96,861 before the district courts.

The court laid stress in particular on the role of the district judiciary in disposing of the pending bail applications, noting that it "provides the first point of interface to the citizens."

" Our district judiciary is wrongly referred to as the ‘subordinate judiciary’. It may be subordinate in hierarchy but it is not subordinate in terms of its importance in the lives of citizens or in terms of the duty to render justice to them. High Courts get burdened when courts in the first instance decline to grant anticipatory bail or bail in deserving cases. This continues in the Supreme Court as well, when High Courts do not grant bail or anticipatory bail in cases falling within the parameters of the law.

"The consequence for those who suffer incarceration are serious. Common citizens without the means or resources to move the High Courts or the apex court languish as undertrials. Courts must be alive to the situation as it prevails on the ground – in the jails and police stations where human dignity has no protector.

"As judges, we would do well to remind ourselves that it is through the instrumentality of bail that our criminal justice system‘s primordial interest in preserving the presumption of innocence finds its most eloquent expression. The remedy of bail is the 'solemn expression of the humaneness of the justice system.'

"Tasked as we are with the primary responsibility of preserving the liberty of all citizens, we cannot countenance an approach that has the consequence of applying this basic rule in an inverted form. We have given expression to our anguish in a case where a citizen has approached this court. We have done so in order to reiterate principles which must govern countless other faces whose voices should not go unheard."

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