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Delayed Justice is Denied Justice: Supreme Court Orders Suspension of Sentence and Bail for Appellant

Introduction

The Hon’ble Supreme Court (‘SC’), in a recent judgement, Atul alias Ashutosh v. State of Madhya Pradesh[i] held that courts should normally suspend sentences and grant bail in cases where a criminal appeal is unlikely to be heard before the completion of the entire sentence. The SC has consistently emphasized the importance of upholding the tenets enshrined under a. 21 of the Constitution of India (‘Constitution’). In the present judgement dated 02.02.2024, the SC observed that bail is often unjustly denied in deserving cases, a practice that should ideally be rectified at lower court levels, thus avoiding any undue hardship being caused to the accused persons.

Brief Facts

  • The appellant was convicted under s. 489(c) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’) for possession of fake currency notes worth Rs. 44,000/-. The learned trial court convicted and sentenced the appellant to five years of rigorous imprisonment and imposed a fine[ii].

  • The appellant challenged the conviction before the High Court of Madhya Pradesh (‘HC’). The appellant also filed an application praying for bail and suspension of sentence, contending that he has been in custody for almost two and a half years.

  • However, the HC in the order dated 31.08.2023 refused to suspend the sentence of the appellant, citing the gravity of the crime and the evidence presented. Subsequently, the appellant filed a special leave petition (‘SLP’) before the SC.

Held

  • The Division Bench of the SC comprising of Justices Abhay S. Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan noted that the appellant had already served half of the five-year sentence imposed by the trial court. The SC noted that the appeal against the conviction was unlikely to be concluded before the appellant completed the entire sentence.

  • The SC emphasized the principles of justice and fairness, observing that in cases where there is a fixed-term sentence and the appeal is unlikely to be heard before the completion of the sentence, suspension of sentence and bail should typically be granted. The SC ordered the appellant to be produced before the trial court within one week from the date of the judgment and directed the trial court to release the appellant on bail until the final disposal of the appeal before the HC.

Analysis

In its recent judgements, the SC has expressed discontent with HCs for their tendency to deny bail in cases when warranted. In the present judgement, the SC adopted a strict approach, reprimanding the HCs for their failure to adhere to its directives and denying bail in deserving cases. This judgement highlights the SC’s unwavering commitment to upholding the fundamental principles enshrined in the Constitution under a. 21. By emphasizing the need for fair and just treatment in legal proceedings, especially regarding the suspension of sentences and the grant of bail, the SC reaffirms its dedication to protecting individual liberties and ensuring justice for all. In highlighting the need for expediency in the criminal justice system, particularly with regard to sentence suspension and grant of bail pending appeal, the SC ensured through this ruling that the appellant, who had already served a substantial portion of their sentence, is not deprived of liberty while the appeal is underway.


End Notes:

[i] 2024 SCC OnLine SC 113


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

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