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A Case of Non-Application of Mind: Supreme Court Grants an Unusual Release to a PMLA Accused

Introduction

In the archives of legal history, certain cases stand out for their unique circumstances and the legal principles they elucidate. One such case is Souvik Bhattacharya v. ED, Kolkata Zonal Office[i], a recent Supreme Court (‘SC’) ruling concerning an accused under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (‘PMLA’), which has sparked a flurry of discussion in legal circles. This case is a prime example of the court’s apparent non-application of mind, leading to an intriguing situation where the accused was granted bail despite the SC’s own assertion that no arrest had taken place.

Brief Facts

  • The Special (Central Bureau of Investigation) Court (‘Special Court’) took cognizance of offences in a matter under the PMLA against the appellant-accused and others. Although the Special Court did not issue a formal summoning order, it issued a summons in the prescribed Form under s. 61 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (‘CrPC’).

  • The appellant-accused, thereafter, voluntarily surrendered before the Special Court and applied for bail, based on the legal advice given to him. The Special Court rejected this bail application. As a result, the appellant-accused challenged this bail rejection before the Calcutta High Court (‘HC’), which was dismissed. Aggrieved by the HC’s decision, the appellant-accused approached the SC.

Held

  • The SC allowed the appeal of the appellant-accused, directing his release on bail due to procedural errors. It noted that despite the lack of a formal summoning order, the Special Court had issued a summons under s. 61 of the CrPC, requiring the appellant-accused to appear.

  • The SC observed a basic flaw in the proceedings whereby the appellant-accused could not have been taken into custody, even if cognizance of the offence were taken against him. It acknowledged that the appellant-accused had surrendered and applied for bail based on a misconception of fact and law.

  • While clarifying the application of the procedures enumerated under ss. 61, 70, 204, and 437 of the CrPC, the SC ruled that the appellant-accused’s bail application could not have been entertained due to the absence of any formal order for issuance of summons or warrant against the appellant-accused. Hence, the SC directed the release of the appellant-accused on bail, subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the Special Court.

Our Analysis

This case presents a peculiar scenario where the appellant-accused was granted bail despite the SC’s assertion that no arrest had taken place. This raises questions about the lower courts' procedural correctness and the application of mind. The SC’s decision underscores the importance of adhering to procedural norms, particularly in relation to the issuance of summons and warrants.

This decision sets a legal precedent emphasising that flawed summoning procedures must be corrected to ensure the fair treatment of accused persons. It serves as a reminder to lower courts to exercise due diligence and caution while issuing summons or warrants, as the case may be. It also highlights the need for accused persons to seek sound legal advice before taking steps such as voluntary surrender or the stage at which bail should be sought.





End Note

[i] (2024) 3 SCC 597





Authored by Shivangi Bharadwaj, Advocate at Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.

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