New Delhi: "It is the duty of courts across the spectrum-the district judiciary, the High Courts and the Supreme Court- to ensure that the criminal law does not become a weapon for the selective harassment of citizens," the Supreme Court said on Friday.
These observations were made in the judgement by which the apex court extended the interim bail granted to TV anchor Arnab Goswami and two others in a 2018 abetment to suicide case.
The top court also said that it was the duty of the courts to "ensure that the criminal law does not become a weapon for the selective harassment of citizens".
In a 55-page judgement, a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee dealt with various aspects including the importance of human liberty and the role of the court and said that their doors cannot be closed for those oppressed by state actions.
"The doors of this court cannot be closed to a citizen who is able to establish prima facie that the instrumentality of the state is being weaponized for using the force of criminal law," said Justice Chandrachu, who wrote the verdict.
"Our courts must ensure that they continue to remain the first line of defense against the deprivation of the liberty of citizens. Deprivation of liberty even for a single day is one day too many. We must always be mindful of the deeper systemic implications of our decisions," he said.
Highlighting legal dogma that bail is rule and jail is an exception, the bench hoped that the courts will exhibit "acute awareness" to the need to expand the "footprint of liberty" and use the approach adopted by the apex court as a decision-making yardstick for future cases involving the grant of bail.
"Liberty across human eras is as tenuous as tenuous can be. Liberty survives by the vigilance of her citizens, on the cacophony of the media and in the dusty corridors of courts alive to the rule of (and not by) law. Yet, much too often, liberty is a casualty when one of these components is found wanting," it said.
"We are clearly of the view that in failing to make even a prima facie evaluation of the FIR, the High Court abdicated its constitutional duty and function as a protector of liberty.
"Courts must be alive to the need to safeguard the public interest in ensuring that the due enforcement of criminal law is not obstructed. The fair investigation of crime is an aid to it. Equally it is the duty of courts across the spectrum – the district judiciary, the High Courts and the Supreme Court – to ensure that the criminal law does not become a weapon for the selective harassment of citizens," it said.
Human liberty is a "precious constitutional value", which is subject to regulation by validly enacted legislation and as such, the citizen is subject to the edicts of criminal law and procedure, the top court said.
It said section 482 of the CrPC gives power to the high courts to quash criminal cases to prevent abuse of the process of any court and they should exercise power with "circumspection" to secure ends of the justice.
"The public interest in ensuring the due investigation of crime is protected by ensuring that the inherent power of the High Court is exercised with caution. That indeed is one – and a significant - end of the spectrum.
"The other end of the spectrum is equally important: the recognition by Section 482 of the power inhering in the High Court to prevent the abuse of process or to secure the ends of justice is a valuable safeguard for protecting liberty...Post Independence, the recognition by Parliament of the inherent power of the High Court must be construed as an aid to preserve the constitutional value of liberty," it said.
It said the writ of liberty runs through the fabric of the Constitution and the need to ensure the fair investigation of crime is undoubtedly important in itself, because it protects at one level the rights of the victim and, at a more fundamental level, the societal interest in ensuring that crime is investigated and dealt with in accordance with law.
"On the other hand, the misuse of the criminal law is a matter of which the High Court and the lower Courts in this country must be alive. In the present case, the High Court could not but have been cognizant of the specific ground which was raised before it by the appellant that he was being made a target as a part of a series of occurrences which have been taking place since April 2020," it said.
It said that it was the case of Goswami that he has been targeted because his opinions on his television channel are unpalatable to authority and referred to the cases lodged against him and his channel after the his reporting of the Palghar mob lynching case.