- Apprentice Lawyer
Emphasising that bail applications have to be processed expeditiously and placed before the court for hearing in a reasonable and definite time frame, the Allahabad High Court has defined timelines within which bail applications made by persons accused under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (SC/ST Act) should be listed before Court.
The directions issued include those on the duty of the State to serve notice of bail proceedings on the victim within prescribed timelines, that the bail applications must be placed for hearing in Court within a week of the Government being served notice, service of notice by e-mail etc.
Inter alia, the order states that if the notice is served via e-mail, the bail applications must be placed before Court in 6 days/144 hours. The process of serving e-notices, the Court added, should be made effective from May 1, 2021.
Justice Ajay Bhanot was prompted to pass the ruling in view of certain provisions under the SC/ST Act which called for the victim of the offence to be notified of any bail proceedings that may be moved by the accused. Concern had been raised that there were certain inconsistencies in effecting the service of this notice.
Coupled with the SC/ST Act provisions, the Allahabad High Court Rules also laid down certain procedures to be complied with, such as intimating the Government Advocate two days in advance, before the bail application can mature i.e. when it will have to be placed for hearing in Court.
Additionally, the Court also took note that confusion over how the notice of the bail proceedings were to be served on the victim i.e. through the State or through the Court, was also adding to the delay in serving notice, thereby delaying the maturation of the bail plea itself.
"While the rights of the victim as contemplated under the statute have to be upheld at all times, service of notice of bail application/appeal cannot be unduly delayed by the State, nor can the victim cause indefinite deferment of the hearing of the bail application", the Court remarked, as it proceeded to issue various binding directions.
"Constitutional courts have to constantly be at the vanguard of the defence of liberties of citizens", it added, while referring to various Supreme Court precedents, including the recent ruling in the Arnab Goswami case.
The Court framed two primary questions for consideration:
What is the agency and mode for service of notice of bail applications/bail appeal upon the victim under the SC/ST Act?
What is the time period for maturation of a bail application/bail appeal before the High Court which implements the mandate of the Act and agrees with the requirements of constitutional liberties?
After discussing the Constitutional ramifications of delaying the hearing of bail pleas, the rights of victims under the SC/ST Act and the State's duties in these respects, the Judge eventually issued the following procedural directions for strict compliance when it came to bail applications moved under the Act:
The notice of the bail application/ bail appeal under the Act shall be served upon the Government Advocate before 12:00 PM of any working day.
The State Government shall ensure that service of notice of the bail application/ bail appeal is effected upon the victim not later than 96 hours after the receipt of the said notice. In the course of its order, the Court observe that under the SC/ST Act, the State Government or Special Public Prosecutor is nominated as the sole agency with the exclusive statutory duty to inform the victim about the bail proceedings.
The victim will be entitled to 72 hours time after the receipt of notice of the bail application.
Save in exceptional circumstances which are accepted by the Court, the bail application/ bail appeal under the Act shall be placed before the Court immediately after the expiry of 168 hours/7 days from the time of service of notice of bail application/bail appeal upon the Government Advocate as aforesaid.
The report of the service of notice of bail application/ bail appeal shall be submitted by the State authority before the court showing due compliance of the provisions of Section 15(3) of the Act (dealing with intimating the victim about the bail proceedings).
In case the counsel for the applicant does not move the bail application/ bail appeal on these terms to enable it to be placed before the Court 7 days after the initial service of notice, this procedure shall be followed. The applicant or his/ her counsel shall give 96 hours of notice to the Government Advocate as to the exact date on which such application is intended to be moved. The State shall thereafter cause such notice to be served again upon the victim so as to enable him to have “accurate, notice of the proposed bail application.”
During this period of 7 days' notice of the bail application under the Act, the police authorities shall ensure that appropriate instructions are available with the Government Advocates to assist the Court at the hearing of the bail application/bail appeal.
The SSP/ DCP/SP (in districts where there is no post of SSP) of the concerned district shall be the nodal officer, who shall supervise the staff charged with the duty of actually serving the notice upon the victim and to provide instructions and relevant material to the Government Advocate on the bail application. In case, there is default on part of such official, the nodal officer shall take immediate action in accordance with law against such erring official.
E-notice of bail proceedings under SC/ST Act
The Court proceeded to opine that the process of law cannot move at a bullock cart pace in the age of information technology. Institutions have to upgrade with the latest technological developments and the fruits of technology should serve the people.
Taking note of submissions that the office of Government Advocate does not have the infrastructure and trained personnel to accept and process e-notices of bail applications as of yet, the Court issued the following directions:
The State Government is directed to ensure that requisite infrastructure and trained personnel in the High Court (Office of Government Advocate), as well as in police stations are available to process the traffic of notices by e-mail. The bail application/ bail appeal may be served upon the Government Advocate by e-mail. In case the notice is fully accurate and contains all the relevant annexures, the said service by e-mail shall be sufficient service upon the State.
In the event of service of notice of bail application/bail appeal upon Government Advocate by e-mail, the time limit for effecting service of the said notice by the State upon the victim shall be 72 hours and not 96 hours. The bail application in such cases shall be placed before the Court in 144 hours/6 days.
The option of e-filing of notice of bail applications/ bail appeals under the SC/ST Act, shall be made effective from May 1, 2021 onwards.
State-Level Committee to review directions, streamline procedures
The Court has also directed the Director General of Police to create a State-level committee, headed by and officer not below than the rank of Additional Director General of Police to review the working of the Court's directions, as well as to:
study the possibility of further reducing the time period of notice of bail appeals/bail applications upon the victims,
examine the action taken against the officials found violating the directions.
The Committee is to submit its report on an annual basis before the State Government and make appropriate recommendations. This will also aid the government in framing appropriate schemes for the victim to access justice as contemplated in Section 15(11) of the SC/ST Act read with Rule 14 of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1995, the Court said.