Delhi HC bail for riot accused: Prison for convicts, not to send any message
The Delhi High Court has granted bail to an accused in the Northeast Delhi riots, observing that “prison is primarily for punishing convicts, not for detaining undertrials in order to send any ‘message’ to society”.
Firoz Khan, a truck driver from Old Mustafabad in Delhi, is accused of being part of a mob of 250-300 people that allegedly torched a confectionery shop.
Khan’s lawyer Rebecca John argued that the supplementary statement of the complainant in the case did not identify Khan; there was no evidence to show his presence at the place of the incident; and there was nothing on record to substantiate the accusation that a constable, who claimed to have seen Khan committing the offence, was posted and present at the spot.
In the additional status report, the State said: “Granting of bail at this early stage may send an adverse message in the society, and such crimes should not be allowed to happen in the national capital.”
In his May 29 order, Justice Anup J Bhambhani, however, said, “That cannot be the basis for denying bail, if the court is otherwise convinced that no purpose in aid of investigation and prosecution will be served by keeping the accused in judicial custody. Prison is primarily for punishing convicts, not for detaining undertrials in order to send any ‘message’ to society.”
The judge said the remit of the court is to dispense justice in accordance with law, not to send a message to society. “It is this sentiment, whereby the State demands that undertrials be kept in prison inordinately without any purpose, that leads to overcrowding of jails, and leaves undertrials with the inevitable impression that they are being punished even before trial and therefore being treated unfairly by the system. If at the end of a protracted trial, the prosecution is unable to bring home guilt, the State cannot give back to the accused the years of valuable life lost in prison. On the other hand, an accused would of course be made to undergo his sentence after it has been awarded, after trial,” the order stated.
The court said it would not have entered into any discussion on evidence at the stage of considering bail, but since this was a case in which 250-300 people had gathered and the police arrested two persons, the court was compelled to sift through the evidence “limited to cursorily assessing” how the police had identified the applicant from that large assembly of persons.
“This court is conscious that ‘judicial custody’ is the custody of the court, and the court will be loath to depriving a person of his liberty, in the court’s name, on the mere ipse dixit of the State, when it finds no substantial basis or reason for doing so,” the court said, adding that nothing in the order shall be construed as an expression on the merits of the evidence.