‘Liberty is not a gift for the few’: Supreme Court extends Arnab Goswami’s interim bail

The Supreme Court on Friday gave a clarion call to judges to protect personal liberty and the right of ordinary people to bail, saying “liberty is not a gift for the few”.

Common citizens without the means or resources to move the High Courts or the Supreme Court were languishing in jails as undertrials, the Supreme Court reminded. “Deprivation of liberty even for a single day is one day too many,” a Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra declared in a 55-page order pronounced on Friday.

“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,” Justice Chandrachud, who wrote the judgment, observed.

The State should not be allowed to use criminal law as a ruse to harass citizens, he cautioned.

The judgment said, “Liberty survives by the vigilance of her citizens, on the cacophony of the media and in the dusty corridors of courts alive to the rule of [and not by] law. Yet, much too often, liberty is a casualty when one of these components is found wanting”.

Courts were the “first line of defence” against the deprivation of citizens’ personal liberty. But reality, Justice Chandrachud pointed out, showed that undertrials remained behind bars while their bail applications were lobbed from one rung of courts to another.

Pending bail pleas

To buttress this point, Justice Chandrachud highlighted that 91,568 bail pleas were pending in High Courts, while 1.96 lakh bail applications continued to wait for a hearing in the district courts.

The judgment focused on the importance of the district judiciary.

Justice Chandrachud said the district judiciary was only “subordinate” in hierarchy. It was less to none when it came to saving the lives of citizens or doing justice for them. The district judiciary “must be alive to the situation as it prevails on the ground – in the jails and police stations where human dignity has no protector”.

Arnab Goswami case

The verdict gave detailed reasons for the apex court’s decision to grant bail to Republic TV editor-in-chef Arnab Goswami in an abetment to suicide case on November 11.

The judgment said a “prima facie evaluation” of the FIR against Mr. Goswami did not establish the ingredients of the offence of abetment of suicide against him. It declared that the “doors of the Supreme Court cannot be closed to a citizen who is able to establish prima facie that the instrumentality of the State is being weaponised for using the force of criminal law”.

The judgment criticised the Bombay High Court for “failing to notice” or even attempt to make a prima face evaluation of the contents of the FIR. It said the High Court did not take into account the “disconnect between the FIR and the provisions of Section 306 IPC [abetment to suicide]”.

Justice Chandrachud said the High Court erred in asking Mr. Goswami to apply for regular bail instead of focussing on his plea to quash the FIR. “The High Court should not foreclose itself from the exercise of the power when a citizen has been arbitrarily deprived of their personal liberty in an excess of State power,” he noted.

Source: The Hindu

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