The Allahabad High Court recently held that the pandemic can not be an excuse for courts to justify the ignorance of pending remand matters or for denial of personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The Court while dealing with two cases involving the denial of the right to default bail, partly owing to the trial court's failure to take up pending matters amidst the COVID-19 lockdown (Abhishek Srivastava and Anr v. State of UP).
In the course of his order allowing bail, Justice Attau Rahman Masoodi observed that :
"A mass disaster or Pandemic may severely obstruct our life and governing systems in many ways but the doors of the courts of law must remain open for the protection of Article 21 of the Constitution of India."
In front of the Court were two undertrial prisoners, Abhishek Srivastava and Sanjeev Yadav, who were eligible to default bail under Section 167 (2), CrPC in April 2020 when the police had failed to file the charge sheets on time. Their cases did not surface in court on account of the countrywide lockdown due to the COVID19 pandemic.
In the course of dealing with two bail applications, the Court was informed that since courts were locked between March 24 and June 26, only fresh remand cases were taken up, and no remand orders were passed in the pending cases.
The Court blatantly said that this a serious deviation of duty on the part of Sessions court Judges and Magistrates.
Charge sheets in the cases were filed in May and in June, both applicants were denied default bail, as the trial courts took the view that their right to default bail stood eclipsed with the filing of the charge sheets.
The court also pointed out that even the work on holiday rule of the General Rules (Criminal), 1977 had been misinterpreted by the District/Session Judges and Magistrates. The High Court opined that Rule 186 provides that bail, remand matters should be taken up on general holidays by the criminal courts.
The right of personal liberty is a fundamental right which for its enforcement remained unaffected even during the lock-down...
The Court proceeded to allow the release of both bail applicants on bail. The Court has also asked for details to be submitted on Magistrates or Sessions Judges from Lucknow and Hardoi who have failed to pass remand orders between March 25 and June 16, 2020.