State Should Not Oppose Bail Citing Gravity of Crime if It Can't Ensure Speedy Trial: Supreme Court
Anadi Tewari (Bar  and  Bench) 05 July 2024
The Supreme Court recently highlighted that if the State or prosecuting agency is unable to ensure a speedy trial in criminal cases, they should not object to the grant of bail to the accused on the ground that the alleged crime is serious (Javed Gulam Nabi Shekh v. State of Maharashtra and Another).
A vacation Bench of Justices JB Pardiwala and Ujjal Bhuyan made the observation in a matter where it had rebuked the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for delaying the trial in a counterfeit currency case.
The accused in this case had been languishing in jail for four years without a trial, when the matter came to the notice of the top court on July 3. 
The Court eventually granted bail to the accused by emphasizing that regardless of the seriousness of a crime, an accused has a right to a speedy trial under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
"If the State or any prosecuting agency including the court concerned has no wherewithal to provide or protect the fundamental right of an accused to have a speedy trial as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution then the State or any other prosecuting agency should not oppose the plea for bail on the ground that the crime committed is serious. Article 21 of the Constitution applies irrespective of the nature of the crime," the Court further observed in its order. 
The Court highlighted that the seriousness of the alleged crime cannot interfere with the fundamental right to a speedy trial, adding that the NIA had infringed this right of the accused in this case. 
"The petitioner is still an accused; not a convict. The over-arching postulate of criminal jurisprudence that an accused is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty cannot be brushed aside lightly, howsoever stringent the penal law may be. We are convinced that the manner in which the prosecuting agency as well as the Court have proceeded, the right of the accused to have a speedy trial could be said to have been infringed thereby violating Article 21 of the Constitution," the Court observed.
The Court was hearing an appeal filed by the accused against a February 2024 Bombay High Court order that refused to grant him bail.
The accused was apprehended by Mumbai Police in 2020 based on secret documents, which led to the recovery of counterfeit currency notes allegedly from Pakistan. The NIA later took over the investigation and found that the appellant had visited Dubai in February 2020, where he allegedly received the counterfeit currency.
While considering the appellant's bail plea, the Supreme Court disapproved of the delay in trial and urged the NIA to not 'make a mockery of justice' given the right of the accused to a speedy trial.
Further, the Court noted that two co-accused had already been granted bail, although one bail order was currently under challenge before the Supreme Court.
The Court noted that even though the accused had remained in jail as an undertrial for four years, the trial court was yet to frame charges and that the prosecution was slated to examine 80 witnesses.
For these reasons, the Court set aside the Bombay High Court order and granted bail to the accused, subject to conditions set by the trial court. The Court also directed the accused to mark his appearance at NIA's Bombay office every 15 days.
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