Friday, March 3, 2017

Remands to Custody and Bail

A long, long time ago, this blog ran a series on issues surrounding the grant of bail for non-bailable offences. The primary issue focused upon, was how several statutes placed the burden upon the accused to show that there were no reasonable grounds to believe that the alleged offences had been committed by her. In the last of those posts (available here), I covered a section on how the law placed this burden upon on the accused, without providing her any right to access documents prior to filing of the charge-sheet.  Section 207 Cr.P.C., concerning supply of copies for certain documents, only applies after the charge-sheet has been filed. Before that (and this is when bail applications are most commonly filed), no statutory right to copies of documents and statements exists. A brief insight into the case law was provided in that post, which showed courts occasionally had decided to supply a copy out of concerns for fair trials.

Recently, I was part of arguments before a trial court in Delhi where the investigating agency sought remand to police custody. Remand to custody, it may be recalled, stems from Section 167 Cr.P.C. When the police fail to complete investigation within 24 hours, this provision enables the police to make a request to the Magistrate, for detaining the accused person for a further duration in custody. This custody can be of two kinds, police custody or judicial custody. As it normally happens with the Cr.P.C., Section 167 does not explicitly state that an Application has to be filed. It does explicitly demand that Case Diaries (See Section 172, Cr.P.C.) are to be forwarded when the accused is produced. Normally though, for a judge to pass orders an application would be necessary, and so applications are always filed for seeking remand. These are, commonly, cyclostyled applications that merely recount the facts of the case with one or two paragraphs containing the reasons for seeking further custody of the accused. These, again, are usually (i) fear of the accused fleeing the course of justice, (ii) fear of tampering with evidence, and (iii) apprehension of coercing witnesses.  

In our case, when the remand application was filed, copies were specifically denied to the accused persons. The prosecution argued that there was no provision under the Cr.P.C. allowing for such copies to be filed. As I was given to understand, this stand is routinely adopted by prosecutors across courts. Remember, an Application seeking remand is different from the Case Diaries, for which access-restrictions are specifically crafted within the Code. While it could be argued that the Code does not specifically enable the accused to obtain copies of documents and statements before the charge-sheet is filed (an argument which in my opinion is contrary to all sense of fairness), can the same logic be extended to a mere remand application?  

I think it cannot, and in light of the possible merit the other argument has - that no materials can be supplied - it serves all the more reason to ensure a copy of the remand application is supplied to the accused. To make an argument through analogy let us look at preventive detention. While preventive detention laws come with deprivations of standard procedural rights (such as a right to counsel), even persons detained under these laws are constitutionally required to be supplied with the grounds seeking detention! Without having any knowledge of the reasons why the state seeks my custody, what is the point of the accused even contesting the point of custody in that event?

Most judges have a fine sense of balance and often inform the counsel for an accused the basis for the remand application. It is not as if the nitty-gritty of an investigation is being laid bare in the investigation. That remains the domain of a Case Diary which is rightly shielded from prying eyes. Moreover, there is no prohibition on the counsel for an accused inspecting the court record or applying for a certified copy of these records, which are public documents in the eyes of law. If this is the case, then why stick with the charade of non-cooperation? Such a position only worsens the imbalance in resources that the State has at its disposal as against those an accused person can summon. The Delhi High Court rules have a fine chapter on police and custody remands which could sorely do with an amendment addressing this anomalous situation.

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