The concept of bail germinates from the presumption of innocence until proven guilty which is golden thread running throughout the criminal justice system. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, Bail is defined as “Procuring the release of a person from legal custody, by undertaking that he/she shall appear at the time and place designated and submit him/herself to the jurisdiction and judgment of the court.” The primary object of bail is to attain the appearance of the person accused of an offence for the trial. This article seeks to acquaint readers with the Default Bail mechanism under the CrPC- the practice and procedure, intricacies involved in the light of recent judicial pronouncements.
The right to default bail as enshrined in Section 167(2) of CrPC is an absolute and indefeasible in right of the accused. It provides down that upon the expiry of a specified period, if the chargesheet has not been filed by the investigating agency, the accused immediately becomes entitled to seek bail. This type of bail is called default bail or statutory bail or automatic bail. As the name suggests, the accused becomes entitled to be released automatically once the statutory requirements of 167(2) are complied with and an application has been made, orally or in writing. The accused can claim it as a matter of right and this right is not subject to the discretion of the Court, because it is expressly granted to him by the legislature. The object behind granting default bail is three-fold, firstly, to expedite the investigation, secondly to further personal liberty of the accused and thirdly, to do societal justice in the long run. In the case of Suresh Jain v. State of Maharashtra, (2013) 3 SCC 77 the Supreme Court clarified, “A person accused of an offence acquires an “indefeasible right” to be granted bail on meeting the bail conditions if investigation is not completed within the periods mentioned in S. 167(2) of CrPC, and the Magistrate is mandatorily required to release the accused person. Any detention beyond the prescribed period would be illegal.”
Right to Default Bail: Statutory or Fundamental?
The Supreme Court has ad infinitum ruled in favour of accused’s personal liberty and held it to be an intrinsic part of Article 21 of the Constitution. In Bikramjit Singh v. State of Punjab 2020 SCC OnLine SC 824, it went a step ahead to unequivocally declare that right to be released on bail is not merely a statutory right but a fundamental one, which accrues to in his favor once the statutory conditions of Section 167(2) are fulfilled. In another symbolic ruling of 2020, the Apex Court held that the order extending limitation due to COVID-19 cannot be interpreted as extending the limitation period under Section 167(2) CrPC. The Court further stated, “The right of prosecution to carry on investigation and submit a charge sheet is not akin to right of liberty of a person enshrined under Article 21 and reflected in other statutes including Section 167, Cr.P.C.” Hence, the period u/s.167 is inviolable and cannot be extended by the Supreme Court even while exercising its power under Article 142.
Computation of 60/90 days
The Supreme Court by majority view in Rakesh Kumar Paul v State of Assam, (2017) 15 SCC 67 held that the specified period after which accused gets entitled to default bail is 90 days where the offence is punishable with a minimum sentence of 10 years; or offence punishable with death and any lower sentence; or offence punishable with life imprisonment and any lower sentence; and in cases where the offence is punishable with 10 years or less, the period is 60 days. While computing period of 60 or 90 days, the day on which the accused was remanded to the judicial custody should be excluded, and the day on which challan is filed in the court, should be included. The same has been affirmed by Supreme Court in a plethora of judgments. (Ref- State of M.P. v. Rustam, 1995 Suppl (3) SCC 221; Ravi Prakash Singh v. State of Bihar, AIR 2015 SC 1294)
Application seeking default bail – written or oral?
The Apex Court in Bikaramjit case has categorically stated that the application for default bail need not necessarily be in writing, even an oral application would suffice; the only caveat is that it must be made before the investigating agency files the chargesheet. The Court while reiterating the majority view of Rakesh Kumar Paul v. State of Assam, (2017) 15 SCC 67 held: “A conspectus of the aforesaid decisions would show that so long as an application for grant of default bail is made on expiry of the period of 90 days (which application need not even be in writing) before a charge sheet is filed, the right to default bail becomes complete. It is of no moment that the Criminal Court in question either does not dispose of such application before the charge sheet is filed or disposes of such application wrongly before such charge sheet is filed. So long as an application has been made for default bail on expiry of the stated period before time is further extended to the maximum period of 180 days, default bail, being an indefeasible right of the accused under the first proviso to Section 167(2), kicks in and must be granted.” To spell out what this means for a layman, whether the accused makes a written application or an oral application seeking default bail is of no consequence. The Court has to only consider the statutory requirements of Section-167(2), namely, whether the statutory period for filing a chargesheet has expired, whether the charge-sheet has been filed and whether the accused is prepared to and does furnish bail.
Interpretation of “availed of”: date of filing application or date of actual release?
One of the contentious issues is whether the expression “availed of” would mean when the accused files application or when accused is actually released after furnishing bail formalities. This issue assumes importance where an accused files an application for default bail and, before the court considers it, the charge sheet is filed. In such cases, the decision of the Court regarding when did the accused “avail of his right to be released on default bail becomes crucial, because that determines whether the accused can be released on default bail or whether his right to be so released is extinguished by the filing of the charge sheet in the interregnum. The Apex Court in M. Ravindran v. The Intelligence Officer, Crl. Appeal 699/2020 while affirming its earlier decision Uday Mohanlal Acharya v. State of Maharashtra, (2001) 5 SCC 453, held that the expression must be understood to mean “when the accused files an application and is prepared to offer bail on being directed.” The accused shall be deemed to have enforced his indefeasible right when such application is filed even though it is pending consideration and the actual release is subject to the compliance with the order granting bail. This interpretation is in consonance with the purpose of the Section 167(2) and the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the CrPC. The Constitution Bench in Sanjay Dutt v. State, (1994) 5 SCC 410 held, “The indefeasible right accruing to the accused in such a situation is enforceable only prior to the filing of the challan and it does not survive or remain enforceable on the challan being filed, if already not availed of.” There were ambiguities in interpretation of this expression “availed of” as different High Courts have differed in their opinion, which now stands settled by the Apex Court.
How to interpret Explanation I to Section 167(2)?
Explanation I to Section 167(2), CrPC provides that the accused shall be detained in custody so long as he does not furnish bail. A person released on bail under section 167(2) is deemed to be released under the provisions Chapter XXXIII of CrPC. The Court in Ravindran case while liberally construing the explanation held that it would apply only to those situations where the accused has availed of his right to default bail and undertaken to furnish bail as directed by the Court, but has subsequently failed to comply with the terms of the bail order within the time prescribed by the Court. The explanation would not apply to the situation where the prosecution files the chargesheet or additional complaint prior to fulfillment of the conditions of bail. Consequently, the right to be released on default bail continues to remain enforceable once the accused has applied for such bail, notwithstanding pendency of the bail application, subsequent chargesheet, additional complaint or report seeking extension of time by the prosecution before the Court is filed. Undisputedly, filing additional complaint or chargesheet merely to circumvent the right of the accused frustrate the object of CrPC and doesn’t affect the enforceability of the right of default bail. In State v. Hargyan, Crl. Rev. P. 770/2015, Delhi High Court held that filing incomplete chargesheet on the 60th/90th day to defeat the accused’s right to default bail is an apparent abuse of law. The chargesheet has to conform to the essentials of the Section173 of the CrPC. As a precautionary principle the Counsel for accused must apply for default bail the moment the right under Section- 167(2) accrues to him failure to do so extinguish this right after the prosecution has filed a chargesheet.
Can Court impose condition of deposit of money?
The Court while releasing the accused on default bail cannot impose harsh conditions of depositing money as clarified by Supreme Court in Saravanan v. State represented by Inspector of Police, Crl. App. 681682/2020. Provided the statutory conditions of Section 167(2) are met and bail is furnished, the accused is entitled to default bail. The Court added that the circumstances under which regular bail is granted stands on a different footing than the default bail and imposing such conditions would defeat the very purpose of default bail.
Role of Magistrate
Lord Russell of Killowen, C.J said“….it was the duty of magistrates to admit accused persons to bail, wherever practicable, unless there were strong grounds for supposing that such persons would not appear to take their trial.” Duty is casted upon the Magistrate to inform the accused about his indefeasible right to be released, when it accrues. In case the accused cannot arrange a private counsel, it is the obligation of the Magistrate to ensure competent and effective legal aid is provided to him at the expense of the State, as held in Mohd. Ajmal Amir Kasab v. State of Maharashtra, (2012) 9 SCC 1. Under the National Legal Services Authority (Free and Competent Legal Services) Regulations, 2010 various District Legal Services Authorities have appointed Remand and Bail Advocates in the respective district courts to ensure fair representation to the accused. The Magistrate also ought to ensure that the appointed counsel has access to all case related documents for effectively defending the accused. In order to avoid the salutary purpose of Section 167(2) from being frustrated by subsequent filing of chargesheet, the Courts must decide bail applications on the very day of filing or as far as practicable, at the earliest possible opportunity. The denial of the right to default bail should be viewed as denial of the right to liberty granted by Article 21. In matters of personal liberty, it is the solemn duty of the court to avoid technical approach and lean in favor of personal liberty.
On perusal of various judicial pronouncements, it can be observed that the right to default bail under section 167(2) of the Code proceeds under the premise that the accused must enforce his right to be released on default bail by way of application, written or oral. The Court has to ascertain whether the accused is prepared to furnish bail. In other words, the Magistrate’s exercise of power depends on the application by the accused. If the magistrate receives no such application, he has no power to release the accused. There are two situations when the right to default bail would be extinguished, firstly if the accused fails to furnish bail and/or comply with the terms and conditions of the bail order within the time stipulated by the Court; secondly, if he fails to apply for default bail upon the expiry of the specified period (60/90 days), and subsequently chargesheet, additional complaint or report seeking extension of time is filed.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Bhawna is an advocate practising in Delhi High Court and District Courts of Delhi. She specialises in Criminal, POCA and POCSO matters. She is also serving as the Advisor to Indian National Bar Association and Member of Criminal Justice Society of India. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dhruv is an advocate practising in Delhi High Court and Supreme Court who specialises in Criminal law. He is a Member of Supreme Court Bar Association and Indian National Bar Association. He may be reached at email@example.com.