SC: Judges are bound to explain basis on which they arrive at conclusions

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 5th December 2019, in the matter of Mahipal v. Rajesh Kumar @ Polia & Anr. pronounced that merely recording “having perused the record and on the facts and circumstances of the case” does not sub-serve the purpose of a reasoned judicial order. Where an order refusing or granting bail does not furnish the reasons that inform the decision, there is a presumption of the non-application of mind.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

The power to grant bail under Section 439 OF Cr.P.C is of a wide amplitude and involves the exercise of the discretionary power of the court, but it has to be exercised in a judicious manner and not as a matter of course. (This inference has been drawn on the basis of Para 11)

The determination of whether a case is fit for the grant of bail involves the balancing of numerous factors, among which the nature of the offence, the severity of the punishment and a prima facie view of the involvement of the accused are important. No straight jacket formula exists for courts to assess an application for the grant or rejection of bail. (Para 12)

At the stage of assessing whether a case is fit for the grant of bail, the court is not required to enter into a detailed analysis of the evidence on record to establish beyond reasonable doubt the commission of the crime by the accused. That is a matter for trial. However, the Court is required to examine whether there is a prima facie or reasonable ground to believe that the accused had committed the offence and on a balance of the considerations involved, the continued custody of the accused sub-serves the purpose of the criminal justice system. (Para 12)

Where bail has been granted by a lower court, an appellate court must be slow to interfere and ought to be guided by the principles set out for the exercise of the power to set aside bail. (Para 12)

The Court is required to factor, amongst other things, a prima facie view that the accused had committed the offence, the nature and gravity of the offence and the likelihood of the accused obstructing the proceedings of the trial in any manner or evading the course of justice. (Para 14)

The provision for being released on bail draws an appropriate balance between public interest in the administration of justice and the protection of individual liberty pending adjudication of the case. However, the grant of bail is to be secured within the bounds of the law and in compliance with the conditions laid down by the Supreme Court. It is for this reason that a court must balance numerous factors that guide the exercise of the discretionary power to grant bail on a case by case basis. Inherent in this determination is whether, on an analysis of the record, it appears that there is a prima facie or reasonable cause to believe that the accused had committed the crime. It is not relevant at this stage for the court to examine in detail the evidence on record to come to a conclusive finding. (Para 14)

The considerations that guide the power of an appellate court in assessing the correctness of an order granting bail stand on a different footing from an assessment of an application for the cancellation of bail. The correctness of an order granting bail is tested on the anvil of whether there was an improper or arbitrary exercise of the discretion in the grant of bail. The test is whether the order granting bail is perverse, illegal or unjustified. On the other hand, an application for cancellation of bail is generally examined on the anvil of the existence of supervening circumstances or violations of the conditions of bail by a person to whom bail has been granted. (Para 15)

Where a court considering an application for bail fails to consider relevant factors, an appellate court may justifiably set aside the order granting bail. An appellate court is thus required to consider whether the order granting bail suffers from a non-application of mind or is not borne out from a prima facie view of the evidence on record. It is thus necessary for this Court to assess whether, on the basis of the evidentiary record, there existed a prima facie or reasonable ground to believe that the accused had committed the crime, also taking into account the seriousness of the crime and the severity of the punishment. (Para 16)

However, it is not for the court to assess in detail the evidence on record to come to a conclusive finding on a chain of causation. A court assessing a plea of bail is required to find a prima facie view of the possibility of the commission of the crime by the accused and not conclude that the alleged crime was in fact committed by the accused beyond reasonable doubt. (Para 17)

It is a sound exercise of judicial discipline for an order granting or rejecting bail to record the reasons which have weighed with the court for the exercise of its discretionary power. (Para 22)

Merely recording “having perused the record and on the facts and circumstances of the case” does not sub-serve the purpose of a reasoned judicial order. (Para 23)

It is a fundamental premise of open justice, to which our judicial system is committed, that factors which have weighed in the mind of the judge in the rejection or the grant of bail are recorded in the order passed. (Para 23)

Open justice is premised on the notion that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done. (Para 23)

The duty of judges to give reasoned decisions lies at the heart of this commitment. Questions of the grant of bail concern both liberty of individuals undergoing criminal prosecution as well as the interests of the criminal justice system in ensuring that those who commit crimes are not afforded the opportunity to obstruct justice. Judges are duty bound to explain the basis on which they have arrived at a conclusion. (Para 23)

Where an order refusing or granting bail does not furnish the reasons that inform the decision, there is a presumption of the non-application of mind which may require the intervention of the Supreme Court. (Para 25)

Where an earlier application for bail has been rejected, there is a higher burden on the appellate court to furnish specific reasons as to why bail should be granted. (Para 25)

Judgement_05-Dec-2019
Copy of judgement:

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *