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High Court cannot accord protection to accused from arrest while dismissing anticipatory bail, sans cogent reasons: SC

The SC on May 28, 2021 {Nathu Singh vs. State of U.P. & Ors.} held that the Court cannot be oblivious to the circumstances that Courts are   faced   with   day   in   and   day   out, while   dealing   with anticipatory bail applications.

It was also held by the Bench, comprising of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Aniruddha Bose that even when the Court is not inclined to grant anticipatory bail to an accused, there may be circumstances where the High Court is of the opinion that it is necessary to protect the person apprehending arrest for some   time,   due   to   exceptional   circumstances,   until   they surrender before the Trial Court. For example, the applicant may plead protection for some time as he/she is the primary caregiver   or   breadwinner   of  his/her   family   members, and needs to make arrangements for them. It was held that in such extraordinary circumstances, when a strict case for grant of anticipatory bail is not made out, and rather the investigating authority has made out a case for custodial investigation, it cannot be stated that the High Court has no power to ensure justice. It was held that it needs no mentioning, but the Supreme Court may also exercise its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to pass such an order.

The sole question to be answered by the Supreme Court in the present   appeals   relates   to   whether   the   High   Court,   while dismissing   the   anticipatory   bail applications   of   the respondents, could have granted them protection from arrest.

The SC held that without going into the question of whether Section 438, Cr.P.C. itself allows for such a power, as it is not necessary to undertake such an exercise in the present case, it is clear that when it comes to the High Court, such a power does exist.   It was held that Section   482,   Cr.P.C   explicitly   recognizes   the   High Court’s inherent power to pass orders to secure the ends of justice. It was held that this provision reflects the reality that no law or rule can   possibly account   for   the   complexities   of   life,   and   the infinite range of circumstances that may arise in the future.

It was further held that the impugned orders passed by the High Court, in the present appeals, do not meet any of the standards as laid out above for the following reasons: firstly, after the dismissal of the anticipatory bail application, on the basis of the nature and gravity of the offence, the High Court has granted   the   impugned   relief   to   the   respondents   without assigning any reasons. Secondly, in granting the relief for a period of 90 days, the Court has seemingly not considered the concerns   of   the   investigating   agency,   complainant   or   the proviso under Section 438(1), Cr.P.C., which necessitates that the Court pass such an exceptional discretionary protection order for the shortest duration that is reasonably required. It was held that a period of 90 days, or three months, cannot in any way be considered to be a reasonable one in the present facts and circumstances.

It was concluded that the impugned orders therefore do not withstand legal scrutiny. It was held that the resultant effect of the High Court’s orders is that neither are the respondents found entitled to pre­-arrest bail, nor can they be arrested for a long duration i.e. for 90 days. It was held that during the said duration they can roam freely without being apprehensive of coercive action. It was held that the High Court committed a grave error in passing such protection to the respondents/­accused.   Such   a   direction   by   the   High   Court exceeds   its   judicial   discretion   and   amounts   to   judicial largesse, which the Courts do not possess.

For   the   aforestated   reasons,   the   present   appeals   were allowed by the SC.   The   impugned   order   of   the   High   Court to the extent of granting protection for 90 days to the respondents­/accused   was   set   aside,   leaving   it   open   to   the Investigating Agency to proceed in the matters in accordance with law and complete the investigation.

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