December 21, 2018 9:11:30 pm
The Delhi High Court on Friday sought response of the Centre and AAP government on a plea challenging constitutional validity of a criminal law which requires even an acquitted person to provide a bail bond and sureties to be released from jail.
The provision — section 437A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) — requires that a person acquitted has to furnish a bail bond and sureties, valid for a period of six months, to be released from custody. This is to ensure he or she is available if the state prefers an appeal against the acquittal.
A bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Manoj Ohri issued notice to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Delhi government and the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) and sought their stand on the petition by a man who has been acquitted in a murder case but is languishing in prison as he could not arrange for any surety.
The trial court on November 19, 2018, while acquitting him in the murder case, had ordered his release on bail from custody on his furnishing a personal bond of Rs 20,000 and one surety of the like amount, as per section 437A CrPC, for six months.
Advocates Ajay Verma and Katyayini, appearing for petitioner Arvind Mehto, urged the court that some interim directions be issued exempting his client from the requirement of providing sureties.
The bench said that before issuing any interim directions, it has to know the background of the petitioner and directed the police to file a report after verifying his family’s status, including the number of members, their occupation and their socio-economic condition.
The court said the report will also indicate whether Mehto was involved in any other crime in the past and would the police be preferring an appeal against his acquittal.
With the directions, the bench listed the plea for interim relief on January 7 and said it will hear the main matter, which challenges the constitutional validity of the provision, on February 5.
In his plea filed through advocate Katyayini, Mehto has said, “That even after the order of the release in his favour the petitioner is languishing in jail because he is unable to fulfil the condition of the surety attached with the order of his release.
“This is in clear violation of Article 21 of Constitution of India. Section 354 CrPC provides that after the judgement passed by the trial court the person tried be released forthwith.”
The plea has contended that there are many poor persons and distressed women who are lodged behind bars, either awaiting trial for months and years or because they are unable to furnish the bonds or securities as required under section 437A due to their extreme poverty and ignorance.
“In most of the cases, no one on their behalf had even bothered to move to the court for relaxing, waving or reduction of the conditions imposed on them,” it said.
The petition has alleged that section 437A of the CrPC appears to be neutral, but is “selective” in its impact as it “discriminates against one class of persons” — those who are not wealthy, influential or privileged.
It has claimed that effect of such discrimination was that a person is not able to enjoy the liberty which is the consequence of acquittal and therefore, offends the equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution.
“The confinement of a person after acquittal violates freedom of movement guaranteed to every citizen under Article 19(1)(d) of the Indian Constitution and the legal fetters on the personal liberty restricts the fundamental right that Article 21 protects,” the petition has said.
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