'None should suffer incarceration without legal authority', SC on protection of personal liberty

It stressed that fundamental rights are not isolated and separate, but rather form an interconnected web of liberty and freedom, and this court must discourage prolonged incarceration

Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India
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IANS

The Supreme Court has said that the right to personal liberty is directly related to the inalienable right towards human dignity and personhood, and the court is conscious that none should suffer incarceration without legal authority.

It stressed that fundamental rights are not isolated and separate, but rather form an interconnected web of liberty and freedom, and it is the duty of this court to discourage prolonged incarceration.

A bench comprising justices K.M. Joseph, Hrishikesh Roy, and B.V. Nagarathna said: "The relevant provisions of the CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) are the laws that are essential to protect an individual's liberty. It regulates the societal need for limited detention of persons charged with serious offences."

The bench said the Constitution scheme provides that all human rights, including the right to personal liberty, are specifications of one special fundamental right, which is the right to have one's personal dignity respected.

The bench added, "We have, therefore, adopted the interpretation whereby personal liberty is safeguarded and justice would not be compromised and in the grand scheme of things, the unjustified detention of individuals is eschewed."

Justice Roy, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench, said as a court of law, once the legal stipulations of the 'Code' are satisfied, "we are duty-bound to apply the law and prevent unlawful detention and protect personal liberty".

Justice Roy noted, "Whatever be the outcome, this court is conscious that none should suffer incarceration without legal authority. Although the state is tasked to prevent crime and maintain security, personal liberty should not be the collateral."

He added that the right to personal liberty is directly related to the inalienable right towards human dignity and personhood and the concept of dignity is central to constitutional law discourse.


The bench stressed that fundamental rights are not isolated and separate, but rather form an interconnected web of liberty and freedom.

"Any law that takes away liberty has to be just, fair and reasonable and pass muster of the collective operation of rights mentioned under Articles 14, 19 and 21," it said.

Justice Roy noted that the very instance the statutory remand period ends, an indefeasible right to default bail accrues to the accused and the same needs to be guarded.

"The liberty of the individual is surely relative and regulated. Absolute liberty is something that cannot be conceived in a societal setting. The law therefore allows authorities to detain accused persons and facilitate investigation. However, it is the duty of this court to discourage prolonged incarceration," said the bench.

The apex court made these observations while examining the legal question whether the date of remand is to be included or excluded for considering a claim for default bail when computing the 60/90-day period as contemplated in proviso (a) of Section 167 (2) of the CrPC.

According to this section, an accused will be entitled to default bail if the charge sheet is not filed within 60 days from the date of remand and for certain category of offences, the period can be extended till 90 days.

The top court said the right to default bail is not extinguished by the subsequent filing of the charge sheet, and the accused continues to have the right to default bail. It added that any interpretation given to the statutory contours of Section 167 CrPC have to necessarily measure up to the standards of reasonableness, fairness and immutability of rights.

"It hardly needs to be emphasised that the question of default bail is inextricably linked to personal liberty and Article 21 of the Constitution," it said.


Citing the judgment in the K.S. Puttaswamy case, the bench added that even in the absence of Article 21, the state has no power to deprive a person of his life or personal liberty without the authority of the law.

"It logically follows from there that life and personal liberty are inalienable and are rights that are inseparable from a dignified human existence", it added.

The top court made these observations while considering the legal question in a plea filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) challenging a Bombay High Court order, which granted default bail to former DHFL promoters Kapil Wadhawan and Dheeraj Wadhawan in the Yes Bank money laundering case.

It said an accused is entitled to default bail if the charge sheet is not filed by the 61st/91st day of the remand, and declined to entertain ED's appeal against the high court order.

"The order of the high court granting default bail to the respondents by applying the proviso (a) (ii) of Section 167(2) CrPC is found to be in order. Hence, we uphold the impugned judgment dated 20.08.2020 passed by the single judge of the Bombay High Court. Any other pending issues arising from these appeals are to be addressed by an appropriate bench of this court," said the bench.

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