Supreme Court: Violation of Fundamental Right of Speedy Trial is a Ground for Granting Bail to Accused in UAPA Cases On 1 February 2021, the Supreme Court of India (SC) in the case ofUnion of India (Appellant) v. K.A. Najeeb (Respondent), upheld an order granting bail to K.A. Najeeb under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) considering the time that he has spent in custody and...
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Supreme Court: Violation of Fundamental Right of Speedy Trial is a Ground for Granting Bail to Accused in UAPA Cases
On 1 February 2021, the Supreme Court of India (SC) in the case ofUnion of India (Appellant) v. K.A. Najeeb (Respondent), upheld an order granting bail to K.A. Najeeb under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) considering the time that he has spent in custody and the unlikelihood of the trial being completed anytime soon
The SC bench comprising Justices NV Ramana, Surya Kant, and Aniruddha Bose, refused to interfere with the Kerala High Court's (HC) order and held that an attempt has been made to strike a balance between State's right to establish charges and the accused's rights under the Constitution of India.
An appeal was filed by the Centre through National Investigation Agency (NIA) against HC's order wherein it granted bail to the respondent charged under several Sections of the Indian Penal Code, Explosive Substances Act, and UAPA.
Facts of the case
The factual matrix of the case is that the respondent with other members of the Popular Front of India (PFI), decided to avenge a purported act of blasphemy by one Professor TJ Joseph who had framed a question paper which included a question that was considered objectionable against a particular religion by certain sections of society.
On 4 July 2010, a group of people attacked the professor, forcefully intercepted his car, restrained him, and chopped-off his right palm with choppers, knives, and a small axe. Country-made bombs were also hurled at bystanders to create panic and terror in their minds and to prevent them from coming to the aid of the professor.
An FIR was lodged and over the course of the investigation that the attack was part of a larger conspiracy involving meticulous preplanning, numerous failed attempts, and the use of dangerous weapons.
The allegation against the respondent was that he is one of the main conspirators however, he was declared an absconder and his trial was split up from the rest of his co-conspirators.
The co-accused persons were found guilty by special NIA Court and the respondent was traced and arrested and a charge sheet was re-filed by the NIA against him. Between 2015 and 2019, he was denied bail 6 times, observing that prima facie he had prior knowledge of the offence, had assisted and facilitated the attack, etc.
In 2019, the respondent approached the HC (Kerala) and it released him on the ground that the trial was yet to begin and he had been in custody for four years. The HC emphasized for the need of the speedy trial and held that he could not be kept detained as the trial was not likely to commence soon.
The SC had stayed the bail order of the HC and he spent more than 5 years in judicial custody, without a trial.
Observations of the SC
The SC observed that the HC did not take into consideration the likelihood of the respondent being guilty or not, or whether rigors of Section 43D(5) of UAPA are alien to him. The HC's ground for granting bail was merely based on the long period of detention and the unlikelihood of the trial in near future.
The bench cited its judgment in Angela Harish Sontakke v. State of Maharashtra, SLP (Crl.) No. 6888 of 2015, wherein the SC drew balance between the seriousness of the charges under UAPA with the period of custody suffered and the likelihood of trial.
In the case of Sagar Tatyaram Gorkhe v. State of Maharashtra, SLP (Crl.) No. 7947 of 2015, the SC had granted bail to the accused charged under UAPA as he had been incarcerated for four years and over 147 witnesses were yet to be examined in trial.
The Top Court clarified that in several judgments of the SC it had held that "liberty guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution would cover within its protective ambit not only due procedure and fairness but also access to justice and a speedy trial."
It further emphasized that "No person ought to suffer adverse consequences of his acts unless the same is established before a neutral arbiter…Once it is obvious that a timely trial would not be possible and the accused has suffered incarceration for a significant period of time, Courts would ordinarily be obligated to enlarge them on bail."
Decision of the SC
The SC held that it would not intervene with the HC's order of granting bail. It rather advised the Trial Court for imposing certain additional conditions while releasing the respondent i.e. presence at the police station every week at 10PM, informing in writing that he is not involved in any other new crime, refrain from participating in any activity which might enrage communal sentiments.
The SC further stated that if the respondent violates the above-mentioned conditions or if he attempts to tamper with the evidence or hamper the trial, then the Special Court may cancel his bail.