SC nixes widely accepted norm to deny bail to accused under uapa
The Supreme Court has issued a rather contrarian ruling on the grant of bail, by proclaiming that people accused under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) do not deserve bail as a rule. Such people must be granted bail only in exceptional cases, the court clarified. The court further said that delay in hearing of the case is no ground to grant bail.
“The conventional idea in bail jurisprudence vis-à-vis ordinary penal offences that the discretion of Courts must tilt in favour of the oft-quoted phrase – ‘bail is the rule, jail is the exception’ – unless circumstances justify otherwise – does not find any place while dealing with bail applications under UAP Act,” a bench comprising Justices MM Sundresh and Aravind Kumar said.
The case related to the bail application of a man accused of promoting Khalistani terror movement. But while establishing the rule that bail must necessarily be rejected under UAPA, the court enunciated a two-pronged test to be applied while dealing with bail applications under the Act. These include whether the test for rejection of the bail is satisfied. In this context, the court analysed the particular section of UAPA which imposes restrictions on grant of bail to a person accused of offences under Chapters IV and VI of the Act, over and above those stipulated under CrPC.
The harsh ruling bases its logic on the intent of the legislature while framing a law such as UAPA, which is intended to strengthen national security. The court pointed out that the intention of the legislature, while enacting UAPA, was to make ‘jail’ the rule and ‘bail’ an exception. It said the exercise of general power to grant bail under UAPA is ‘severely restrictive’ in scope, with the courts being required to arrive only at a prima facie satisfaction compared to ‘strong suspicion’ as in case of discharge, based on material on record.
This ruling, while intended to strengthen national security, raises critical concerns about the thousands of undertrials who find themselves languishing in jails due to an inability to secure bail. The most disconcerting aspect is that a significant number of these individuals belong to vulnerable sections and minorities, adding an extra layer of injustice to an already dire situation.
The UAPA, enacted to combat terrorism and unlawful activities, has often been criticized for its stringent provisions, leading to prolonged detentions without trial. The recent ruling, which narrows the scope of bail in UAPA cases, has the potential to exacerbate the already alarming situation of undertrials in Indian jails.
A significant proportion of these individuals facing prolonged detention are from marginalized communities and religious minorities. The inability to secure bail not only denies them their fundamental right to liberty but also perpetuates systemic inequalities. It is essential to recognize that the impact of such legal decisions disproportionately affects those who are already marginalized in society.
The plight of these undertrials highlights the urgent need for a comprehensive overhaul of the legal and judicial system. First and foremost, legal assistance must be made readily available to those who cannot afford it. Access to competent legal representation is a fundamental right and a cornerstone of a fair and just legal system. By ensuring legal aid for all, regardless of socio-economic status, we can mitigate the disparities that currently exist in the justice system.
Additionally, the financial burden of securing bail often becomes an insurmountable obstacle for many undertrials. The state must take proactive measures to address this issue by implementing a robust system of financial assistance for those who find themselves trapped in the legal labyrinth. A fair and just society must not allow an individual’s financial status to determine their access to justice.
The Supreme Court, as the custodian of justice, should take this opportunity to not only safeguard national security but also protect the rights of the vulnerable sections and minorities. Striking a balance between security concerns and individual liberties is crucial to upholding the principles of justice and ensuring that innocent lives are not adversely affected. (IPA Service)