Bail – The grant or refusal of bail is entirely within the discretion of the judge hearing the matter and though that discretion is unfettered, it must be exercised judiciously and in a humane manner and compassionately. Also, conditions for the grant of bail ought not to be so strict as to be incapable of compliance, thereby making the grant of bail illusory.

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

(Madan B. Lokur) and (Deepak Gupta) JJ.

February 6, 2018

CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.227 /2018

(ARISING OUT OF S.L.P. (CRL.) NO. 151 OF 2018)

Dataram Singh …Appellant

Versus

State of Uttar Pradesh & Anr. …Respondents

J U D G M E N T

Madan B. Lokur, J.

1. Leave granted.

2. A fundamental postulate of criminal jurisprudence is the presumption of innocence, meaning thereby that a person is believed to be innocent until found guilty. However, there are instances in our criminal law where a reverse onus has been placed on an accused with regard to some specific offences but that is another matter and does not detract from the fundamental postulate in respect of other offences. Yet another important facet of our criminal jurisprudence is that the grant of bail is the general rule and putting a person in jail or in a prison or in a correction home (whichever expression one may wish to use) is an exception. Unfortunately, some of these basic principles appear to have been lost sight of with the result that more and more persons are being incarcerated and for longer periods. This does not do any good to our criminal jurisprudence or to our society.

3. There is no doubt that the grant or denial of bail is entirely the discretion of the judge considering a case but even so, the exercise of judicial discretion has been circumscribed by a large number of decisions rendered by this Court and by every High Court in the country. Yet, occasionally there is a necessity to introspect whether denying bail to an accused person is the right thing to do on the facts and in the circumstances of a case.

4. While so introspecting, among the factors that need to be considered is whether the accused was arrested during investigations when that person perhaps has the best opportunity to tamper with the evidence or influence witnesses. If the investigating officer does not find it necessary to arrest an accused person during investigations, a strong case should be made out for placing that person in judicial custody after a charge sheet is filed. Similarly, it is important to ascertain whether the accused was participating in the investigations to the satisfaction of the investigating officer and was not absconding or not appearing when required by the investigating officer. Surely, if an accused is not hiding from the investigating officer or is hiding due to some genuine and expressed fear of being victimised, it would be a factor that a judge would need to consider in an appropriate case. It is also necessary for the judge to consider whether the accused is a first-time offender or has been accused of other offences and if so, the nature of such offences and his or her general conduct. The poverty or the deemed indigent status of an accused is also an extremely important factor and even Parliament has taken notice of it by incorporating an Explanation to Section 436 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. An equally soft approach to incarceration has been taken by Parliament by inserting Section 436A in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

5. To put it shortly, a humane attitude is required to be adopted by a judge, while dealing with an application for remanding a suspect or an accused person to police custody or judicial custody. There are several reasons for this including maintaining the dignity of an accused person, howsoever poor that person might be, the requirements of Article 21 of the Constitution and the fact that there is enormous overcrowding in prisons, leading to social and other problems as noticed by this Court in In Re-Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisons, (2017) 10 SCC 658.

6. The historical background of the provision for bail has been elaborately and lucidly explained in a recent decision delivered in NikeshTarachand Shah v. Union of India, 2017 (13) SCALE 609 going back to the days of the Magna Carta. In that decision, reference was made to Gurbaksh Singh Sibbia v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 565 in which it is observed that it was held way back in Nagendra v. King-Emperor, AIR 1924 Cal 476 that bail is not to be withheld as a punishment. Reference was also made to Emperor v. Hutchinson, AIR 1931 All 356 wherein it was observed that grant of bail is the rule and refusal is the exception. The provision for bail is therefore age-old and the liberal interpretation to the provision for bail is almost a century old, going back to colonial days.

7. However, we should not be understood to mean that bail should be granted in every case. The grant or refusal of bail is entirely within the discretion of the judge hearing the matter and though that discretion is unfettered, it must be exercised judiciously and in a humane manner and compassionately. Also, conditions for the grant of bail ought not to be so strict as to be incapable of compliance, thereby making the grant of bail illusory.

8. We have been constrained to make these observations in the present appeal, in which the grant of bail has not been opposed by the State, but there is vehement opposition from the complainant.

9. On 13th January, 2016 the complainant lodged a First Information Report (FIR) No.16 of 2016 at Police Station Sahjanawa, Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, alleging that the appellant had cheated him of an amount exceeding Rs.37 lakhs and had therefore committed an offence punishable under Sections 419, 420, 406 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code. It was also alleged that the appellant had issued a cheque for Rs. 18 lakhs in favour of the complainant (returning a part of the amount of Rs. 37 lakhs) but had stopped payment of that cheque in violation of Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

10. Thereafter the complainant filed Complaint Case No. 206 of 2016 on or about 21st January, 2016 alleging the commission of an offence by the appellant under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881. Cognizance was taken and summons issued to the appellant by the concerned Magistrate in the complaint case.