A Bench of Justices D K Jain and H L Dattu in a judgement chided the Calcutta High Court for granting bail to Ashis Chatterjee, a murder accused, despite the fact that he was charged with a heinous offence of strangulating a 57-year old widow.
"We are of the opinion that the impugned order is clearly unsustainable. It is trite that this Court does not, normally, interfere with an order passed by the High Court granting or rejecting bail to the accused.
"However, it is equally incumbent upon the High Court to exercise its discretion judiciously, cautiously and strictly in compliance with the basic principles laid down in a plethora of decisions of this Court on the point," the Bench said quashing the bail and directing his forthwith arrest.
The accused allegedly strangled Mallika Sen at her residence on July 2, 2009. Though the Sessions Court had thrice dismissed his bail plea, the High Court granted him bail with the observation," Having regard to the nature of the alleged crime, we do not think that interest of investigation requires or (sic) justifies further detention of the present petitioner at this stage."
Aggrieved, the brother of the victim appealed in the apex court seeking cancellation of the bail.
Citing a number of its earlier decisions the apex court said it was well settled that among other circumstances, the factors to be borne in mind while considering an application for bail are: (i) whether there is any prima facie or reasonable ground to believe that the accused had committed the offence;(ii) nature and gravity of the accusation; (iii) severity of the punishment in the event of conviction; (iv) danger of the accused absconding or fleeing, if released on bail; (v) character, behaviour, means, position and standing of the accused; (vi) likelihood of the offence being repeated; (vii) reasonable apprehension of the witnesses being influenced; and (viii) danger, of course, of justice being thwarted by grant of bail.
The apex cuort said if the High Court does not advert to such relevant considerations and mechanically grants bail, the said order would suffer from the vice of non-application of mind, rendering it to be illegal.
"We are constrained to observe that in the instant case, while dealing with the application of the accused for grant of bail, the High Court completely lost sight of the basic principles that have been enumerated.
"The accused, in the present case, is alleged to have committed a heinous crime of killing an old helpless lady by strangulation. He was seen coming out of the victim's house by a neighbour around the time of the alleged occurrence, giving rise to a reasonable belief that he had committed the murder.
"We feel that under the given circumstances, it was not the stage at which bail under Section 439 of the Code should have been granted to the accused, more so, when even charges have not yet been framed, the Bench said.
In the instant case the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate had rejected three bail applications of the accused but the High Court did not find it worthwhile to even make a reference to these orders.
"Needless to add that observations touching the merits of the case against the accused are purely for the purpose of deciding the question of grant of bail and if in future any such application is filed by the accused, it shall be considered on its own merits untrammelled by any of these observations, the Bench added.