• India
  • Jul 09
  • Kevin Savio Antony

Right to bail cannot be withheld as a punishment, rules SC

• The Supreme Court of India ruled that the right to bail cannot be withheld as a punishment, regardless of the crime’s nature.

• In a recent order, Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Ujjal Bhuyan emphasized that if the state, prosecution agencies, or even courts are unable to ensure an accused’s right to a speedy trial, they should not deny bail based on the severity of the alleged crime. 

• The Supreme Court underscored that denying bail is an unjust punishment, resulting in the “prisonisation” of an accused who is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Significance of this verdict

• Right to Bail: The Supreme Court reaffirms that the right to bail is fundamental and cannot be withheld as a form of punishment, regardless of the seriousness of the alleged crime.

• Speedy Trial: It emphasizes that every accused person has the constitutional right to a speedy trial under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. If the state or prosecuting agencies fail to ensure this right, they cannot use the seriousness of the crime as a reason to deny bail.

• Prisonisation Concerns: Denial of bail can lead to unjust imprisonment of individuals who are still legally presumed innocent until proven guilty. This highlights the potential harm caused by prolonged pre-trial detention.

• Legal Precedent Reminder: The Supreme Court critiques the trend where bail is withheld as a form of punishment, reiterating established legal principles that bail should not be used punitively.

• The principle that bail is the rule and jail is the exception has been well recognised through the repetitive pronouncements of the Supreme Court. 

• Innocence of a person accused of an offence is presumed through a legal fiction, placing the onus on the prosecution to prove the guilt before the court. Thus, it is for that agency to satisfy the court that the arrest made was warranted and enlargement on bail is to be denied.

• Presumption of innocence has been acknowledged throughout the world. Article 14(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 and Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights acknowledge the presumption of innocence, as a cardinal principle of law, until the individual is proven guilty.

• Both in Australia and Canada, a prima facie right to a reasonable bail is recognised based on the gravity of offence. In the United States, it is a common practice for bail to be a cash deposit. 

• In the United Kingdom, bail is more likely to consist of a set of restrictions.

• The position in India is no different. It has been the consistent stand of the courts, including the Supreme Court, that presumption of innocence, being a facet of Article 21, shall inure to the benefit of the accused. Resultantly, burden is placed on the prosecution to prove the charges to the court of law. The weightage of the evidence has to be assessed on the principle of beyond reasonable doubt.

(The author is a trainer for Civil Services aspirants.)

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