SUPREME COURT HOLDS THAT A CHARGESHEET CANNOT BE FILED DURING THE PENDENCY OF AN INVESTIGATION, AS IT WOULD DEPRIVE THE ACCUSED OF HIS RIGHT TO DEFAULT BAIL
A two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice Krishna Murari and Justice C.T. Ravikumar passed a Judgment dated 26.04.2023 in the case of ‘Ritu Chhabaria vs Union of India and Ors, Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 60 of 2023’ and held that during the pendency of an investigation, an investigating officer cannot file a chargesheet or a complaint, merely to deprive an accused of his right to default bail.
1) In the present case, one Mrs. Ritu Chhabaria (Petitioner) filed a ‘Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 60 of 2023’ in the Supreme Court of India under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution seeking the release of her husband, Mr. Sanjay Rajkumar Chhabaria (Accused) on default bail.
2) The Petitioner stated that an FIR was lodged against some persons for cheating and criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) and for corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, in which her Husband’s name was not mentioned. However, the Investigating Authorities subsequently filed multiple Supplementary Chargesheets on 26.05.2020, wherein the Accused had been named as a prosecution witness.
3) The case was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), wherein the CBI arrested the Accused and remanded him to custody on 28.04.2022.
4) The Petitioner further stated that multiple Supplementary Chargesheets had again been filed by the Investigating Officers, wherein the Accused had been named as a suspect and that his remand under Section 309 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Cr.PC) (Power to postpone or adjourn proceedings) was being renewed from time to time, as a result of which he was not able to be released on default bail.
(i) The Petitioner contended that the act of the Investigating Officers of keeping the Accused in continued custody without granting a bail, during the ongoing investigation, is prejudicial to his Fundamental Rights.
(ii) The Petitioner also stated that every Supplementary Chargesheet filed by the Investigating Officers was an attempt to ensure that the Accused is not released on default bail.
(iii) The Counsel for the Respondent argued that the Petitioner’s contention that the Police failed to mention the Accused’s name in the FIR is not a relevant submission for grant of bail, as an FIR only sets the criminal procedure in motion and is not a complete document in itself, whereas the Supplementary Chargesheet is a complete document and the same clearly mentioned the Petitioner’s Husband’s name as an Accused.
Supreme Court Observations:
After considering the arguments of both the Parties, the Supreme Court made the following observations:
(1) That in the present case, the Apex Court limited its jurisdiction to decide the issue of violation of Fundamental Rights in respect of personal liberty of the Accused.
(2) That the Constitution has entrusted the Supreme Court with protecting civil liberties of individuals, and the society at large. These civil liberties manifest themselves in the form of Fundamental Rights and allow the Indian citizens to negotiate effectively with the State.
(3) That the Apex Court cannot refuse to exercise its jurisdiction on technicalities in cases of violation of Fundamental Rights as that would lead to a ripple effect resulting in a dysfunctional social contract, subjecting its people to an arbitrary and unfettered tyranny of the State.
(4) That the relief of statutory bail under Section 167 Cr.PC (Procedure when investigation cannot be completed in twenty four hours), is a Fundamental Right directly flowing from Article 21 of the Constitution (Protection of Life and Personal Liberty) and the violation of such a Fundamental Right directly attracts Article 32 of the Constitution (Remedies for enforcement of rights).
(5) That the object of Section 167 of Cr.PC is to ensure that the investigating authorities are under a constitutional duty to expedite the investigation process within the stipulated time, failing which, the accused has a right to be released on default bail.
(6) That as per the scheme of investigation of a cognizable case under Cr.P.C; upon arrest of a person, if the investigation of the case cannot be completed within 24 hours, he must be produced before the Magistrate to seek his remand during ongoing investigation. However, there is a prescribed statutory time frame for seeking remand of the accused and the same cannot extend beyond the following timelines-
(a) 90 days in cases where offence is punishable with death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term of not less than 10 years and
(b) 60 days where the investigation relates to any other offence.
(c) C.r.P.C further provides that on expiry of the period of 90 days or 60 days, the accused has a right to be released on default bail and this right, however, is extinguished, if the charge sheet is filed within the stipulated period.
(7) That resorting to a supplementary chargesheet under Section 173 of the Cr.PC only arises after the main chargesheet has been filed and a supplementary chargesheet, cannot under any circumstance, be used to scuttle the right of default bail. Otherwise, the investigating officer would be merely filing supplementary chargesheets one after the other to ensure that the default bail is not granted to the accused.
(8) Applying the aforesaid principles of law to the present facts, the Bench held that the Investigating Authorities erred in filing Chargesheet and Supplementary Chargesheets without completing the investigation of the case, thereby, preventing the Accused from being released on default bail. The Bench further observed that 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 Cr.PC.
Thus, based on the aforesaid observations, the Apex Court vide Judgment dated 26.04.2023 upheld the Accused’s right to default bail and held that the Investigating Authority cannot file a chargesheet or a complaint, without completing the investigation of the case, as otherwise, it would deprive the Accused of his right to default bail under Section 167 of the CrPC. As a result, the Writ Petition filed by the Petitioner was disposed off on the aforesaid terms and the interim bail earlier granted to the Accused was made absolute.
The Indian Lawyer