- The subject has received a lot of attention in the news during the past few years. and quite properly so. The Supreme Court has repeatedly stressed the need to respect the principles of bail rather than jailing people for small infractions that do not merit custodial interrogation. Unresolved cases are a well-documented scourge in the country’s many levels of the court delivery system. The millions of undertrials languishing in jails due to a lack of hearings and case dispositions are not only depressing, but they also highlight a significant flaw in our justice delivery system. To effectively address this anomaly, the Supreme Court has focused on convincing the High Courts and lower courts to grant bail with an open mind.
- However, despite clear guidelines, the lower courts find themselves consistently contradicting the higher judiciary’s viewpoint on the matter. On more than one occasion, the SC has pulled up the lower courts for not adhering to these guidelines with dire warnings of action for failing to observe. In an extraordinary measure, the SC has now asked the Allahabad High Court to withdraw judicial work from a sessions judge and see to his retraining at the judicial academy. As mentioned above, the SC has only followed through on its repeated observations that judicial officers need retraining given the quality of recent decisions on bail. Note that the SC’s efforts on the matter are not only laudatory but also reflect genuine concerns for the undertrials.
- The Apex Court’s request of the high court of UP, the state that was observed to be seeing a large number of illegal custody orders, is a culmination of several instances over many months where the SC has upped the ante from concern to displeasure to outright disapproval of two aspects. First, how trial courts handle bail hearings; second, how high courts handle bail appeals and how they fail to discipline district or trial courts over whom high courts alone have supervisory powers. Indeed, SC has no supervisory role whatsoever. While any law the SC makes is binding on all courts as per Article 141 of the Constitution, the SC can order a change in judicial practice. The onus is thus on the high courts to ensure trial courts follow in letter and spirit what the SC prescribes.
- Yet, the Supreme Court has chastised trial courts for failing to follow these norms, claiming that summonses frequently result in arrests. The Supreme Court stated that either trial judges do not understand the scope of the court’s directives or, for the best of reasons, continue to dismiss bail applications. One SC bench saw trial courts’ proclivity to deny bail as a result of low conviction rates, arguing that trial courts considered a denial of bail as punishment. In a nutshell, forcing a high court to march off a judicial officer for retraining can rile up a segment of the judiciary over remit issues. Yet, the emphasis must be purely on applying a legal principle—bail, not incarceration.