Millennium Post

Securing the safeguard

A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the protection granted under Anticipatory bail — Section 438 of CrPc — "should not invariably be limited to a fixed period". The bench asserted that the life or duration of the anticipatory bail does not end when the court summons the accused or when the chargesheet is filed. While the court was of the opinion that anticipatory bail's duration can last the entire trial, it clarified that "if there are any special or peculiar features necessitating the court to limit the tenure of anticipatory bail, it is open for it to do so". Anticipatory bail was inserted in the CrPc as an antidote to detention in false cases. Court's judgment highlights an important aspect. The court rightly held that the protection against arrest should inure in favour of the accused and restricting it would prove unfavourable. The judgment empowers competent courts to decide hereafter whether any restrictions shall be imposed keeping in light the nature of the offence, the likelihood of accused intimidating witnesses or fleeing justice, possibility of tampering evidence, etc. Including all possibilities, the court also said that plea for anticipatory bail can be filed even before an FIR provided there is a reasonable basis for the apprehension of arrest and clarity of facts. Supreme Court's 133-page judgment is significant in present times, especially when archaic laws like sedition have been used more often to detain individuals. Arbitrary arrests to harass citizens, especially in the interest of those in power, is what led to the introduction of anticipatory bail. Supreme Court's judgment only gives it more weight. Given the pervasive phenomena of arbitrary arrests, the Constitutional bench's judgment serves as instrumental. It answers questions beforehand so that accused can get the relief that Section 438 grants rather than spending the detention.

Many cases highlight the need for clarity which the Constitutional Bench has provided. Arbitrary arrests have been reported several times, especially in regard to political parties settling scores through power. It is easy to frame people on false charges and arbitrarily arrest them. But safeguards such as Section 438 were instated only to check such arbitrariness. The court's power to impose restrictions on a case-to-case basis also highlights the efficiency of providing anticipatory bail. Just as one can file anticipatory bail to prevent arrest, it can also be misused to escape arrest despite being guilty. It is to this extent that the bench empowers courts to impose restrictions taking due cognisance of the case's details. An application for anticipatory bail should revolve around concrete facts rather than general allegations. Seeking anticipatory bail should come with due reasoning of why the applicant apprehends arrest. The judgment will indeed prove instrumental in future cases as anticipatory bails are quite popular in legal spheres. In fact, the mere popularity — repeated occurrences — of anticipatory bails speaks a lot about the arbitrariness prevalent in our society.

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