The Supreme Court today held that courts should ensure that criminal law does not become a weapon for selective harassment of citizens, while delivering its reasoning behind granting Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami interim bail in the abetment to suicide case.
The judgment of Interim Bail to Arnab Goswami was delivered by a Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee. Pronouncing the verdict today, Justice Chandrachud said that prima facie, it could not be held that Goswami had abetted the suicide of Anvay Naik.
“Prima facie, on the application of the test which has been laid down by this Court in a consistent line of authority which has been noted above, it cannot be said that the appellant was guilty of having abetted the suicide within the meaning of Section 306 of the IPC…”
“…we are clearly of the view that in failing to make even a prima facie evaluation of the FIR, the High Court abdicated its constitutional duty and function as a protector of liberty.”
The Bench lamented that the High Court had failed to establish whether or not there was a prima facie case under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code (abetment to suicide) against the journalist. The judgment highlighting Interim Bail to Arnab Goswami reads,
“The striking aspect of the impugned judgment of the High Court spanning over fifty-six pages is the absence of any evaluation even prima facie of the most basic issue. The High Court, in other words, failed to apply its mind to a fundamental issue which needed to be considered while dealing with a petition for quashing under Article 226 of the Constitution or Section 482 of the CrPC.”
After highlighting the factors that High Courts need to consider while deciding to exercise jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution for grant of bail, the Court noted,
“The appellants are residents of India and do not pose a flight risk during the investigation or the trial. There is no apprehension of tampering of evidence or witnesses. Taking these factors into consideration, the order dated 11 November 2020 envisaged the release of the appellants on bail.”
It was further noted in case highlighting Interim Bail to Arnab Goswami that the High Court had failed to consider that Goswami was made a target on previous occasions.
“…the misuse of the criminal law is a matter of which the High Court and the lower Courts in this country must be alive. In the present case, the High Court could not but have been cognizant of the specific ground which was raised before it by the appellant that he was being made a target as a part of a series of occurrences which have been taking place since April 2020.”
Calling upon courts at all levels to safeguard the liberties of citizens, the judgment authored by Justice Chandrachud further reads in case of Interim Bail to Arnab Goswami,
“Courts must be alive to the need to safeguard the public interest in ensuring that the due enforcement of criminal law is not obstructed. The fair investigation of crime is an aid to it. Equally it is the duty of courts across the spectrum – the district judiciary, the High Courts and the Supreme Court – to ensure that the criminal law does not become a weapon for the selective harassment of citizens.”
Pertinently, the Court also noted,
“Doors of courts cannot be closed in such cases and courts should remain open for all cases of deprivation of personal liberty and such deprivation cannot be even for one day.”
The doors of this Court cannot be closed to a citizen who is able to establish prima facie that the instrumentality of the State is being weaponized for using the force of criminal law in case of Interim Bail to Arnab Goswami.
While disposing of the appeal, the Court in case justifying Interim Bail to Arnab Goswami concluded,
“We have given expression to our anguish in a case where a citizen has approached this court. We have done so in order to reiterate principles which must govern countless other faces whose voices should not go unheard.”