The Supreme Court in a matrimonial dispute case has reiterated the Arnesh Kumar case [Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar and Another] and directed the Courts to strictly follow the guidelines laid down in the case on arrest.

The Court directed that the High Court shall frame the directions given in the abovementioned case in the form of notifications and guidelines to be followed by the Sessions courts and all other criminal courts dealing with various offences.

Furthermore, the Court has also directed the DGP in all the States to ensure strict instructions in terms of the directions are issued.

"Both the High Courts and the DGP’s of all States shall ensure that such guidelines and Directives/Departmental Circulars are issued for guidance of all lower courts and police authorities in each State within eight weeks from today," the Bench comprising Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Aravind Kumar directed.

The Court emphasized the importance of personal liberty and the need for courts to be guided by overarching principles when deciding whether to grant bail. The Court noted that there were no startling features or elements that would disentitle the Appellant to bail. The Court also found that the Appellant had cooperated with the investigation and that there was no impediment to granting bail once the chargesheet was filed.

The Bench observed, “This court has emphasised the values of personal liberty in the context of applying discretion to grant bail. It has been ruled, in a long line of cases that ordinarily bail ought to be granted and that in serious cases – which are specified in the provisions of the CrPC (Section 437) which involve allegations relating to offences carrying long sentences or other special offences, the court should be circumspect and careful in exercising discretion…During the trial, the court is always in control of the proceedings, and it is open for it to impose any condition which it deems necessary to ensure the accused’s presence and participation in the trial. The court must, in every case, be guided by these overarching principles”.

Advocate Smarhar Singh appeared for the Appellant and Advocate Madhusmita Bora appeared for the Respondents.

In this case, the appellant and first respondent were married, with the wife's father interfering and pressurizing the family. A complaint was filed against the wife's family for threatening the husband's family. The Wife then also filed a complaint against the Husband and his family. The husband claimed that the police didn't follow the Supreme Court's guidelines in lodging the FIR. He faced charges under sections 498A, 323, 504 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Sections 3 & 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act (DPA). After applying for bail, his plea was rejected by the Sessions Court, but he obtained interim bail from the High Court, failing to reveal the dismissal of his previous bail application. Consequently, the High Court directed him to surrender. The Criminal Appeal was filed challenging the direction of the High Court.

The Supreme Court held that the High Court erred in rejecting the Appellant's application for anticipatory bail. The Court also found that there were no startling features or elements that would disentitle the appellant to bail. The Court also found that the appellant had cooperated with the investigation and that there was no impediment to granting bail once the chargesheet was filed.

“In the present case, this Court is of the opinion that there are no startling features or elements that stand out or any exceptional fact disentitling the appellant to the grant of anticipatory bail. What is important is not that the matrimonial relationship soured almost before the couple could even settle down but whether allegations levelled against the appellant are true or partly true at this stage, which at best would be matters of conjecture, at least for this Court”, the Bench noted.

The Court has issued a set of directions to all state governments and high courts to prevent the misuse of Section 498A of the IPC, which deals with cruelty to married women by their husbands or in-laws. The Court has directed that police officers should not automatically arrest the accused in cases under Section 498A, but should satisfy themselves about the necessity for arrest. The Court has also directed that the police should forward a checklist to the Magistrate, containing the reasons for the arrest. The Magistrate should only authorize detention after perusing the report furnished by the police.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the appeal and directed the Police Officials and the Trial Court to comply with the abovementioned guidelines for granting bail.

Cause Title: Md. Asfak Alam v The State of Jharkhand & Anr. (2023 INSC 660)

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