SC annuls harsh bail term in PMLA cases

SC annuls harsh bail term in PMLA cases

The Supreme Court on Thursday declared unconstitutional a provision  in the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), which states that bail to an accused cannot be granted until the court is satisfied that he is not guilty of the offence, and is not likely to commit further crimes.  

The top court said the drastic provision turns on its head the presumption of innocence which is  fundamental to a person accused of any offence.

It held that Section 45 of the PMLA violated  the fundamental rights to equality and liberty guaranteed under the Constitution. It traced the provision of bail to 'Magna Carta' of 1215, the most celebrated document in history, upholding the rights of citizens against detention.

"We must be doubly sure that such (a) provision furthers a compelling state interest for tackling serious crime(s). Absent any such compelling state interest, the indiscriminate application of the provisions of Section 45 will certainly violate Article 21 of the Constitution," a bench of Justices R F Nariman and Sanjay Kishan Kaul said.

The bench disagreed with the argument put forward by  Attorney General K K Venugopal that the conditions contained in Section 45 are
only in furtherance of the object of unearthing black money and therefore, the court should be slow to release those accused of money laundering.

The court ruling has fortified the maxim that "bail is the rule, jail an exception". The provision of the 2002 law, which was brought into force in 2005, had rather shifted it to "jail is the  rule, bail an exception".

The court noted that Section 45 makes drastic inroads into the fundamental right of personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.

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