NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the investigating agency cannot scuttle chances of default bail for the accused, which is not merely a statutory but a fundamental right for them, by filing incomplete charge sheet.
An accused is entitled to bail under the law, if the investigating agency fails to file a charge sheet within 90 or 60 days of arrest, depending upon the nature of offence.
"We find it pertinent to mention that the right of default bail under Section 167(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code is not merely a statutory right, but a fundamental right that flows from Article 21 of the Constitution. The reason for such importance being given to a seemingly insignificant procedural formality is to ensure that no accused person is subject to unfettered and arbitrary power of the state," a bench of Justices Krishna Murari and C T Ravikumar said.
The top court pointed out that the process of remand and custody, in their practical manifestations, created a huge disparity of power between the investigating authority and the accused.
"While there is no doubt in our minds that arrest and remand are extremely crucial for the smooth functioning of the investigation authority for the purpose of attaining justice, however, it is also extremely important to be cognisant of a power imbalance," the bench said.
"Therefore, it becomes essential to place certain checks and balances upon the Investigation Agency in order to prevent the harassment of accused persons at their hands," the bench added.
On a writ petition filed by Ritu Chhabaria, the court pointed out statutory time frame has been prescribed of 90 days and 60 days for filing of the charge sheets depending upon the nature of offences.
In case of her husband, the court noted that he was denied default bail on filing of supplementary charge sheet by the investigating agency in a cheating case.
"The question of resorting to a supplementary charge sheet u/s 173(8) of the CrPC only arises after the main charge sheet has been filed, and as such, a supplementary charge sheet, wherein it is explicitly stated that the investigation is still pending, cannot under any circumstance, be used to scuttle the right of default bail, for then, the entire purpose of default bail is defeated," the bench said.
"The filing of a charge sheet or a supplementary charge sheet becomes a mere formality, and a tool, to ensue that the right of default bail is scuttled," the court added.
The court also pointed out that this right of statutory bail, however, is extinguished, if the charge sheet is filed within the stipulated period.
The court explained it is thus axiomatic that first investigation is to be completed, and only then can a chargesheet or a complaint be filed within the stipulated period, and failure to do so would trigger the statutory right of default bail under Section 167(2) of CrPC.
In the instant case, the bench ordered that the interim granted to the accused should be made absolute.