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Arnab Goswami vs. The State of Maharashtra & Others: This is How Supreme Court Upheld Liberty

interim bail to Goswami

The Supreme Court on November 27, 2020 gave a detailed judgment stating the reasons for granting interim bail to noted journalist and editor Arnab Goswami earlier on November 11. There are some stinging observations in the judgement that may serve as a reminder for all those who tried to abuse their power in this case. We bring you those key points from the judgement.

No Prima Facie – High Court Erred

The Supreme Court held that the High Court had erred by not looking into the grounds for quashing the FIR which alleged that the appellant was responsible for abetment of suicide under section 306 of the Indian Penal Code. The court held that the position of law was well settled that in order to constitute the offence of abetment there must exist: A direct or indirect incitement to the commission of a crime; an active role of the accused in instigating or doing an act facilitating the commission of the crime; and the existence of a proximate relationship in time. The SC held that a prima facie evaluation of the FIR does not establish the ingredients of the offence of abetment of suicide under Section 306 of the IPC.

The Supreme Court went on to hold that there was a failure of the High Court in discharging its adjudicatory function at two levels – first in declining to evaluate prima facie at the interim stage in a petition for quashing the FIR as to whether an arguable case has been made out; and secondly, in declining interim bail, as a consequence of its failure to render a prima facie opinion on the first.

The Supreme Court stated that the doors of this Court cannot be closed to a citizen who is able to establish prima facie that the instrumentality of the State is being weaponized for using the force of criminal law.

Role of Courts in Protecting the Liberty

The judgement of the Supreme Court said, “The High Court abdicated its constitutional duty and function as a protector of liberty.”

The SC said, “While dealing with the petition under section 482 for quashing the FIR, the High Court has not considered whether prima facie the ingredients of the offence have been made out in the FIR. If the High Court were to have carried out this exercise, it would (as we have held in this judgment) have been apparent that the ingredients of the offence have not prima facie been established.”

Failing of Judiciary in Bail Issues

While dealing with this case, the Supreme Court laid out an advice on the role of High Courts and district courts. It said, “the High Courts and Courts in the district judiciary of India must enforce this principle in practice, and not forego that duty, leaving this Court to intervene at all times. We must in particular also emphasise the role of the district judiciary, which provides the first point of interface to the citizen. Our district judiciary is wrongly referred to as the ‘subordinate judiciary’. It may be subordinate in hierarchy but it is not subordinate in terms of its importance in the lives of citizens or in terms of the duty to render justice to them. High Courts get burdened when courts of first instance decline to grant anticipatory bail or bail in deserving cases. This continues in the Supreme Court as well, when High Courts do not grant bail or anticipatory bail in cases falling within the parameters of the law. The consequence for those who suffer incarceration are serious. Liberty is not a gift for the few. Administrative judges in charge of districts must also use the facility to engage with the District judiciary and monitor pendency. As the data on the NJDG makes clear, there is a pressing need for courts across the judicial hierarchy in India to remedy the institutional problem of bail applications not being heard and disposed of with expedition.”

Those who evidently tried to stifle Freedom of Expression using the State power wrongly perhaps read and reread the key points of this judgement.