Accused Undergoes 2 Extra Years Custody After Trial Court Misinterprets SC Order; Supreme Court Seeks Action Against Judge

Update: 2022-05-15 05:00 GMT

The Supreme Court, on Monday (9th May), expressed concern that misinterpretation of its order by a trial court judge in Andhra Pradesh, resulted in the accused languishing in custody even after securing interim bail from the Apex Court.

Perturbed by the fact that, in the present case, where custody for 9 years was found to be sufficient to enlarge him on bail, the accused had undergone custody for two additional years (11 years), a four-judge bench comprising Justices U.U. Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat, P.S. Narasimha and Sudhanshu Dhulia reckoned that it is a reincarceration of Hussainara Khatoon and Motil Ram.

"This case portrays very sorry state of affairs."

In order to initiate corrective measures, the Bench passed the following general directions -

  1. Every High Court shall give us details of all such orders which remain to be complied with and about the persons concerned who are still languishing in jail. One of the ways to address the problem would be to have a register and maintain the figures as to in how many matters orders directing release of the persons on bail were issued and if out of such total number of matters, any person stood deprived of the opportunity of being released on bail for some reason or the other. The Register must indicate the reason including whether proper security etc. could be arranged by the concerned person or not. Such matters should then be listed before the concerned court in the succeeding month and the fact that the person has not yet been released on bail, be brought to the notice of the concerned Court under whose orders the relief of bail was afforded to the person(s).
  2. Let the details be given by each High Court within six weeks from today.

It further directed -

"We must observe that these matters be taken with utmost seriousness by the High Court and by all the concerned. Let copies of this Order be sent to all the High Courts."

On 28.09.2020, the Apex Court had granted interim bail to the accused and directed that he be produced before the Trial Court within three days from that date of order. It further directed the Trial Court to release him on interim bail on such terms and conditions as it deems appropriate. The bail application came up before the Trial Court on 29.10.2020. Holding  that the application was not maintainable as three days' time period set-out by the Apex Court had expired, it refused to enlarge him on bail. The relevant portion of the order passed by the High Court is as under -

"How the petition is maintainable after expiry of time as per orders of Supreme Court. Hence, returned."

The Bench was unsettled to note that the stipulation of 'three days', introduced in the said order to expedite the process, misconstrued by the Trial Court has caused a delay of two years to release the accused on bail. It remarked -

"We are surprised that a Judicial Officer had read the order passed by this Court, in the manner as it gets disclosed from his order."

The Bench directed the Andhra Pradesh High Court to take up the matter on its administrative side and seek explanation from the concerned judicial officer for passing such an order.

"We would normally have considered it as defiance of the order passed by this Court but at this stage we rest content by observing that the High Court shall take up the matter on its Administrative Side; call for an explanation from the concerned Presiding Officer of the Trial Court and deal with the matter on the administrative side. This is not to say that whatever we have observed shall be taken as final determination. The matter shall be dealt with purely on its merits on the administrative side."

After granting bail on 28.09.2020, when the matter came up on 20.04.2022, the Supreme Court had recorded in its order that till then the accused was not released on bail. Thereafter, on 25.04.2022, it sought explanation from the concerned police and jail officials.

In its response the Superintendent, Central Prison Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, submitted that the order dated 28.09.2020 granting bail was received in the prison on 06.10.2020. The Registry of the Court had explained the delay stating that the order was transmitted through electronic medium immediately, but the physical copy was sent in due course.

It was asserted that in view of the COVID-19 restrictions prevalent at that point in time, the accused could not be immediately moved. Thereafter, on 22.10.2020, the bail application was drafted and on 29.10.2020 filed before the Trial Court. The Trial Court refused to grant bail on misinterpreting the order passed by the Apex Court. Consequently, the accused was not released even after the Supreme Court granted him bail. However, the Bench clarified that as on the date of passing the present order (9th May), the accused has been released on bail.

Case Title: Gopishetty Harikrishna v. State of Andhra Pradesh SLP (Crl) No. 4685/2020

Click Here To Read/Download Order

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