Indian Constitution Does Not Put Price Tag On Liberty: Allahabad HC On Onerous Surety Conditions In Bail Matters
The Allahabad High Court, Lucknow Bench has expressed its dismay over the practise of Trial Courts of putting onerous surety conditions in bail matters and said that "the Indian Constitution does not put a price tag on liberty".
The Bench of Justice Ajay Bhanot observed that “Onerous surety conditions which have no connection with the socio-economic status of the prisoner will negate the order granting bail, and undermine the fundamental right of liberty of the prisoner guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. The purpose of sureties is dissuasive in intent, but unrealistic surety demands are punitive in effect. The Indian Constitution does not put a price tag on liberty.”
Advocate Diwaker Singh appeared for the applicant.
In this case, plea was moved by an employee of a company that was found to be running with fraudulent policies. However, the applicant was granted bail in all the six matters connected to the offences committed by the company against different investors.
While the applicant was granted bail in 6 cases, the Trial Court had demanded multiple sureties. The counsel for the applicant submitted that his fundamental right to liberty was being curtailed on account of his poverty and inability to arrange multiple sureties in each case.
The High Court observed that “The trial court should factor the socioeconomic circumstances of the prisoner while fixing sureties. Many persons belonging to the downtrodden sections of the society simply do not have requisite social standing to arrange multiple sureties, or the financial clout to satisfy prohibitive surety demands. Persons belonging to poor economic strata or socially marginalized segments of the society may not be set at liberty despite being enlarged on bail in case inordinate sureties are demanded of them or they are required to submit multiple sureties.”
Therefore, the High Court directed for the release of the applicant by filing a single surety in all the 6 criminal cases against him, and accordingly, the application was allowed.
Further, The High Court referred to various decisions of the constitutional courts and noted that “...despite unequivocal holdings of various constitutional courts the trial courts continue to adopt a rote response to a dynamic problem and approach the issue of fixation of sureties in a mechanical manner and neglect to make requisite enquiries.”
Regarding the prevalent situation, the Court further underlined the duties of the trial courts as well as other agencies while fixing sureties as under:
“(1) In case a prisoner cannot arrange the sureties fixed by the trial court the former can make an application to the learned trial court for a lesser surety. Material facts relating to the socioeconomic status and roots in the community of the prisoner shall be stated in the application.
(2) Similarly it is bounden duty of the DLSA to examine the status of the prisoners who have been enlarged on bail but are not set at liberty within seven days of the bail order. In case the prisoners cannot arrange for sureties they may be advised and assisted to promptly move an application for refixation of the surety in light of this judgment.
(3) Once the prisoner makes such application the trial court shall make an enquiry consistent with this judgment and pass a reasoned order depicting consideration of relevant criteria for fixing sureties with utmost expedition.
(4) Every trial court is under an obligation to satisfy itself about the socioeconomic conditions of the prisoner and probability of absconding and his roots in the community and fix sureties commensurate with the same. The State authorities or other credible agencies as the court may direct to promptly provide the requisite details.
(5). In case the prisoner is from another State and is unable to produce local sureties, sureties from the prisoner's home district or any other place of his choice determined by the court of competent jurisdiction of the said district and State shall be accepted by the trial court.
(6) The prisoner/counsel may state the details of the socioeconomic status of the prisoner in the bail application in the first instance. This will facilitate an expeditious consideration of the issue related to sureties.”
The High Court, before parting with the order, said that the issue of fixing of sureties was one which arose time and again and some issues that need greater study were-
"(i) Empirical studies on correlation of socio-economic conditions of the prisoners and ability to produce sureties.
(ii) The cases in which the prisoners who were granted bail but could not be set free or set at liberty after delay on account of their inability to arrange for sureties.
(iii) Method and criteria for determination of socioeconomic conditions and social roots of the prisoner. Role of State authorities and other credible agencies to assist in determination of socioeconomic condition and social roots of the prisoner in an expeditious manner to avoid delays. Feasibility of drawing up a format in which the prisoner may provide the necessary details regarding the same while instituting the bail application.
(iv) Alternative methods including technological solutions which may ensure appearance of under trials or enable ascertainment of their locations or deter flight from justice without insisting on high surety demands.
(v) Comparative studies of different systems of bails prevalent in other States and countries and the efficacy of such systems.
(vi) Any other related issues."
Cause Title- - Arvind Singh v. State Of U.P. Thru. Secy. Home Deptt.