The Supreme Court on Monday said criminal courts are guardian angels of liberty and a conscious failure by them would constitute an affront to liberty, as it asked the Centre to consider introducing a separate law in the nature of a Bail Act to streamline the grant of bails.
It emphasised that in a democracy, there can never be an impression that it is a police state as both are conceptually opposite to each other.
A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.M. Sundresh noted that jails in India are flooded with undertrials and statistics indicate that more than 2/3rd of the inmates of the prisons constitute undertrial prisoners. It said the majority of them may not even be required to be arrested, despite registration of a cognizable offense, being charged with offenses punishable for seven years or less.
It added that they are not only poor and illiterate but also would include women, thus, there is a culture of offense being inherited by many of them.
"It certainly exhibits the mindset, a vestige of colonial India, on the part of the investigating agency, notwithstanding the fact arrest is a draconian measure resulting in curtailment of liberty, and thus to be used sparingly. In a democracy, there can never be an impression that it is a police state as both are conceptually opposite to each other," said the bench, in its 85-page judgment.
It said criminal courts in general, and the trial court in particular, are the guardian angels of liberty and liberty has to be preserved, protected, and enforced by the criminal courts.
"Any conscious failure by the criminal courts would constitute an affront to liberty. It is the pious duty of the criminal courts to zealously guard and keep a consistent vision in safeguarding the constitutional values and ethos," it noted.
Taking these factors into consideration, the top court said: "The Government of India may consider the introduction of a separate enactment in the nature of a Bail Act so as to streamline the grant of bails."
It added that bail applications ought to be disposed of within a period of two weeks except if the provisions mandated otherwise.
"Applications for anticipatory bail are expected to be disposed of within a period of six weeks with the exception of any intervening application. All state governments, Union Territories and High Courts are directed to file affidavits/status reports within a period of four months," said the top court.
The bench observed that the rate of conviction in criminal cases in India is abysmally low. "It appears to us that this factor weighs on the mind of the court while deciding the bail applications in a negative sense. Courts tend to think that the possibility of a conviction being nearer to rarity, bail applications will have to be decided strictly, contrary to legal principles," it added.
The bench said it cannot mix up consideration of a bail application, which is not punitive in nature, with that of a possible adjudication by way of trial. "On the contrary, an ultimate acquittal with continued custody would be a case of grave injustice," it said.
The bench reiterated that "bail is the rule and jail is an exception" coupled with the principle governing the presumption of innocence.
It heard submissions from senior advocate Sidharth Luthra as amicus curiae and Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, who represented the Central government and issued a slew of guidelines in its judgement in the case of titled as 'Satender Kumar Antil Vs CBI'.