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Right To Bail Under The Whip Of Covid-19

The right to bail is a method to ensure the fundamental right to liberty of the citizens. It arises out of the solemn vow of the criminal jurisprudence to presume the innocence of the accused unless otherwise established. The preservation of this vow has been engrained in the provisions relating to bail.

The courts in India have always been regarded as the sole guardian of the fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizens. The global pandemic affected almost each and every service in the country as well as across the globe. It landed up a plethora of services to stagnancy. Like every other service, the legal service too, has been a victim to this. The dismissal of the regular operations of the Courts all over the country have posed a great challenge to the courts to deal with the heaps of cases pending before them. Adding to this it has also limited the courts to take secure several statutory rights of the citizens of this country.

However, an even grave concern before the courts in these times has been whether the fundamental rights of the people could be allowed to capitulate to the pandemic? The citizens owe a huge thanks to the Hon'ble Courts of this country for it were them who cleared this cloud of doubt and provided for the systematic clearance thereto. The apex Court of this country along with the cooperation of different High Courts paved a path for the Courts at the grassroot level to ensure that these rights to the people are not gasped.

As the process of virtual courts caught pace the courts have, to some extent, been able to discharge their duties towards the citizens with the same vigour as was done normally.
However, as far as the bail is concerned, it has been observed that there have been many instances where, the courts have been unable to dispose of the applications for regular as well as default bail owing to the discontinuance of the normal procedure of working.

To this, the Hon'ble Supreme Court has recently cautioned the courts in India against showing any lackadaisical approach in dealing with matters of bail. The Court, while dealing with the case of Arnab Manoranjan Goswami v. The State of Maharashtra & Ors., has reminded the other courts of this country that they are the sole guardians of the fundamental rights of the citizens. The Court has also made it clear that right to liberty is a sacrosanct right and it is the bounded duty of all the courts to strive towards saving this right from being diluted.

The court has drawn inspiration from the dictum of Hon'ble Mr. Justice Krishna Iyer, whereby, the learned judge had opined that the basic rule of criminal justice system is ‘bail and not jail'. The Hon'ble Court has opined that this principle must be brought into practice by the courts in India.

The apex Court has always regarded district courts as the most important kingpin of the entire criminal justice system. It is the court of first instance which can provide instant relief to the people at the grassroot levels. It is through these courts that the people get the earliest and the easiest opportunity to knock the doors of justice. It is the lifeline of the effective judicial process in India.

In the present case, the Court has highlighted the role of subordinate judiciary in the matters of bail. The Court has opined that the district judiciary is wrongly referred to as subordinate judiciary. It may be subordinate in hierarchy but it is not subordinate in terms of its importance in the lives of the citizens of this country. As far as the matters of bail are concerned, it is the first ray of hope for the citizens who need immediate relief. It is therefore imperative for the district judiciary to ensure an effective disposition of the bail applications at the initial stage in a way which thumps the fundamental right to liberty of the citizens.
 
Talking about the bail in general, the Hon'ble Court opined that the remedy of bail is the solemn expression of the humanness of the justice system. It is through this instrumentality that the criminal justice system's primordial interest in preserving the presumption of innocence finds it's most eloquent expression.

The court also quoted from Lord Denning's speech to emphasise the degree of priority which is a want for the bail matters. In his speech Lord Denning had said that when the counsel says
‘My Lord, I have an application which concerns the liberty of the subject, the Judge will forthwith put all the other matters aside and hear it.'

The Court has also reminded the Hon'ble High Courts of their duties toward the people. The Court in its judgement opined that the flooding up of cases in the Supreme Courts occur when the High courts do not grant bail and anticipatory bail in cases falling within the parameters of law. The Court highlighted that NJDG(National Judicial Data Grid) is a significant tool to help the courts to keep a heck over the pendency of cases as well as applications for urgent relief before them. The Court emphasised on the active use of this facility by the courts so as to cater the need of expeditious justice to the people.

The Court, in it's concluding remarks, reflected its expectations with the courts of the country to exhibit acute awareness to the need to expand the footprint of liberty and to use this decision as a touchstone while taking decisions in bail matters.

At this point, it is quintessential to mention that it is not the first time the Court has talked so extensively about the provisions of bail. The Hon'ble Court has time and again laid stress upon the need for expeditiousness in the method of disposal of bail applications in a manner which serves the cardinal principles of the criminal justice system.

It is also pertinent to summon one of the earliest pronouncements in this regard has been made by the Hon'ble High Court of Allahabad in Emperor v. H.L. Hutchinson, whereby, the court opined that the principle which ought to be deduced from the statutory provisions with respect to bail is that grant of bail is a rule and its refusal is an exception. Since then, this opinion has been reiterated and elucidated in a plethora of cases by the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India on several occasions.

However, this recent remainder of the Hon'ble Court has appeared as a beacon of hope for all those undertrials who may be undergoing detentions for the want of disposal of bail applications. It has rescued the fundamental rights of the people from slipping into the darkness of uncertainty. It has also streamlined that regardless of what may be the situation, the Hon'ble Courts of this country would always continue to be the flagbearers of the fundamental rights of the citizens of this country.

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