New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday observed that criminal law cannot become a “weapon for the selective harassment of citizens”, while providing reasons for granting interim bail to journalist Arnab Goswami on November 11 in connection with a 2018 abetment to suicide case.
Underscoring that the “basic rule of the criminal justice system is bail, not jail”, a bench of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Indira Banerjee in an order extended the interim bail granted to Goswami, noting that it will be in effect until further proceedings. Meanwhile, parties involved in the case can continue to pursue a further remedy, they added.
Elaborating on the significance of human liberty and the role of courts, the judges observed that Goswami had been targeted for airing views that were not palatable to the authority. However, they said, “Deprivation of liberty for a single day is a day too many.”
The top court judges also used the occasion to come down heavily on the Bombay high court for denying Goswami interim bail in the habeas corpus petitions filed before it on November 9. “We are clearly of the view that in failing to make even a prima facie evaluation of the FIR, the High Court abdicated its constitutional duty and function as a protector of liberty,” they said.
They also instructed high courts and district courts in the country to allow appellants to pursue the option of bail where allowed. Courts must ensure that they continue to remain the first line of defence when citizens’ liberty is deprived, the judges noted.
Highlighting the role played by district and high courts, they lamented that a number of undertrials continue to languish in jails as they fail to secure bail at the lower courts and would be unable to move the Supreme Court.
“Courts must be alive to the situation as it prevails on the ground – in the jails and police stations where human dignity has no protector…The remedy of bail is a solemn expression of humaneness in the justice system,” the judges said on the significance of the bail.
To buttress the importance of the bail, the top court judges invoked the celebrated case of State of Rajasthan, Jaipur v Balchand, and referred to Justice Krishna Iyer’s statement that “basic rule of our criminal justice system is bail, not jail”.
Meanwhile, along with Goswami, the interim bail will also apply to co-accused in the case, Neetish Sarda and Firoze Mohammed Sheikh, as per the November 11 order of the apex court. Goswami was arrested on November 4 in connection with a criminal case relating to the suicide of interior designer Anvay Naik in 2018.