5 Jan 2011

Role of 'liberty' in human life: Supreme Court delineates

On this blog an year back we had run a post on the 'Principles for Grant of Anticipatory Bail'. However a recent decision of the Supreme Court [Siddharam Satlingappa Mhetre v. State of Maharashtra] compels us to write on the same issue in as much as the decision makes interesting insights on the issue. In this decision the Supreme Court has examined the concept of anticipatory bail as one relating to 'liberty', which is an essential concomitant of human life. The Court went to a great extent to explain the concept as required to be understood in a free society.

The Division Bench of the Court, comprising of Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice K.S. Panicker Radhakrishnan, took account of the writings and underpinnings of noted social thinkers and jurists to explain the importance of liberty and particularly in the context of the rule of law under the Indian Constitution in the following terms;
3. The society has a vital interest in grant or refusal of bail because every criminal offence is the offence against the State. The order granting or refusing bail must reflect perfect balance between the conflicting interests, namely, sanctity of individual liberty and the interest of the society. The law of bails dovetails two conflicting interests namely, on the one hand, the requirements of shielding the society from the hazards of those committing crimes and potentiality of repeating the same crime while on bail and on the other hand absolute adherence of the fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence regarding presumption of innocence of an accused until he is found guilty and the sanctity of individual liberty.
14. Police custody is an inevitable concomitant of arrest for non-bailable offences. The concept of anticipatory bail is that a person who apprehends his arrest in a non-bailable case can apply for grant of bail to the Court of Sessions or to the High Court before the arrest.
41. All human beings are born with some unalienable rights like life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. The importance of these natural rights can be found in the fact that these are fundamental for their proper existence and no other right can beenjoyed without the presence of right to life and liberty .
42. Life bereft of liberty would be without honour and dignity and it would lose all significance and meaning and the life itself would not be worth living. That is why “liberty” is called the very quintessence of a civilized existence.
43. Origin of “liberty”’ can be traced in the ancient Greek civilization. The Greeks distinguished between the liberty of the group and the liberty of the individual. In 431 B.C., an Athenian statesman described that the concept of liberty was the outcome of two notions, firstly, protection of group from attack and secondly, the ambition of the group to realize itself as fully as possible through the self-realization of the individual by way of  human reason. Greeks assigned the duty of protecting their liberties to the State. According to Aristotle, as the state was a means to fulfil certain fundamental needs of human nature and was a means for development of individuals’ personality in association of fellow citizens so it was natural and necessary to man. Plato found his “republic” as the best source for the achievement of the self-realization of the people. 
44. Chambers’ Twentieth Century Dictionary defines “liberty” as “Freedom to do as one pleases, the unrestrained employment of natural rights, power of free chance, privileges, exemption, relaxation of restraint, the bounds within which certain privileges are enjoyed, freedom of speech and action beyond ordinary civility”.
45. It is very difficult to define the “liberty”. It has many facets and meanings. The philosophers and moralists have praised freedom and liberty but this term is difficult to define because it does not resist any interpretation. The term “liberty” may be defined as the affirmation by an individual or group of his or its own essence. It needs the presence of three factors, firstly, harmonious balance of personality, secondly, the absence of restraint upon the exercise of that affirmation and thirdly, organization of opportunities for the exercise of a continuous initiative.
46. “Liberty” may be defined as a power of acting according to the determinations of the will. According to Harold Laski, liberty was essentially an absence of restraints and John Stuard Mill viewed that “all restraint”, qua restraint is an evil”. In the words of Jonathon Edwards, the meaning of “liberty” and freedom is: 
“Power, opportunity or advantage that any one has to do as he pleases, or, in other words, his being free from hindrance or impediment in the way of doing, or conducting in any respect, as he wills.”
47. It can be found that “liberty” generally means the prevention of restraints and providing such opportunities, the denial of which would result in frustration and ultimately disorder. Restraints on man’s liberty are laid down by power used through absolute discretion, which when used in this manner brings an end to “liberty” and freedom is lost. At the same time “liberty” without restraints would mean liberty won by one and lost by another. So “liberty” means doing of anything one desires but subject to the desire of others. 
48. As John E.E.D. in his monograph Action on “Essays on Freedom and Power” wrote that Liberty is one of the most essential requirements of the modern man. It is said to be the delicate fruit of a mature civilization. 
49. A distinguished former Attorney General for India, M.C. Setalvad in his treatise “War and Civil Liberties” observed that the French Convention stipulates common happiness as the end of the society, whereas Bentham postulates the greatest happiness of the greatest number as the end of law. Article 19 of the Indian Constitution averts to freedom and it enumerates certain rights regarding individual freedom. These rights are vital and most important freedoms which lie at the very root of liberty.
50. He further observed that the concept of civil liberty is essentially rooted in the philosophy of individualism. According to this doctrine, the highest development of the individual and the enrichment of his personality are the true function and end of the state. It is only when the individual has reached the highest state of perfection and evolved what is best in him that society and the state can reach their goal of perfection. In brief, according to this doctrine, the state exists mainly, if not solely, for the purpose of affording the individual freedom and assistance for the attainment of his growth and perfection. The state exists for the benefit of the individual. 
51. Mr. Setalvad in the same treatise further observed that it is also true that the individual cannot attain the highest in him unless he is in possession of certain essential liberties which leave him free as it were to breathe and expand. According to Justice Holmes, these liberties are the indispensable conditions of a free society. The justification of the existence of such a state can only be the advancement of the interests of the individuals who compose it and who are its members. Therefore, in a properly constituted democratic state, there cannot be a conflict between the interests of the citizens and those of the state. The harmony, if not the identity, of the interests of the state and the individual, is the fundamental basis of the modern Democratic National State. And, yet the existence of the state and all government and even all law must mean in a measure the curtailment of the liberty of the individual. But such a surrender and curtailment of his liberty is essential in the interests of the citizens of the State. The individuals composing the state must, in their own interests and in order that they may be assured the existence of conditions in which they can, with a reasonable amount of freedom, carry on their other activities, endow those in authority over them to make laws and regulations and adopt measures which impose certain restrictions on the activities of the individuals.
52. Harold J. Laski in his monumental work in “Liberty in the Modern State” observed that liberty always demands a limitation on political authority. Power as such when uncontrolled is always the natural enemy of freedom. 
53. Roscoe Pound, an eminent and one of the greatest American Law Professors aptly observed in his book “The Development of Constitutional Guarantee of Liberty” that whatever, ‘liberty’ may mean today, the liberty is guaranteed by our bills of rights, “is a reservation to the individual of certain fundamental reasonable expectations involved in life in civilized society and a freedom from arbitrary and unreasonable exercise of the power and authority of those who are designated or chosen in a politically organized society to adjust that society to individuals.”
54. Blackstone in “Commentaries on the Laws of England”, Vol.I, p.134 aptly observed that “Personal liberty consists in the power of locomotion, of changing situation or moving one’s person to whatsoever place one’s own inclination may direct, without imprisonment or restraint unless by due process of law”. 
55. According to Dicey, a distinguished English author of the Constitutional Law in his treatise on Constitutional Law observed that, “Personal liberty, as understood in England, means in substance a person’s right not to be subjected to imprisonment, arrest, or other physical coercion in any manner that does not admit of legal justification.” [Dicey on Constitutional Law, 9th Edn., pp.207-08]. According to him, it is the negative right of not being subjected to any form of physical restraint or coercion that constitutes the essence of personal liberty and not mere freedom to move to any part of the Indian territory. In ordinary language personal liberty means liberty relating to or concerning the person or body of the individual, and personal liberty in this sense is the antithesis of physical restraint or coercion.
56. Eminent English Judge Lord Alfred Denning observed: 
“By personal freedom I mean freedom of every law abiding citizen to think what he will, to say what he will, and to go where he will on his lawful occasion without hindrance from any person…. It must be matched, of course, with social security by which I mean the peace and good order of the community in which we live.”
57. Eminent former Judge of this Court, Justice H.R. Khanna in a speech as published in 2 IJIL, Vol.18 (1978), p.133 observed that “liberty postulates the creation of a climate wherein there is no suppression of the human spirits, wherein, there is no denial of the opportunity for the full growth of human personality, wherein head is held high and there is no servility of the human mind or enslavement of the human body”.
The Bench then went on to refer to the decisions of the Supreme Court itself in the context of the exposition of 'Right to Life and Liberty' under the Constitution. Thereafter referring to the evolution of the legal theory on this aspect in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, West Germany, Japan, Canada, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and also the stipulations in International Covenants, to declare that the applications for anticipatory bail were to be looked differently. In this context the decision inter alia provides as under;
93. It is a matter of common knowledge that a large number of undertrials are languishing in jail for a long time even for allegedly committing very minor offences. This is because section 438 Cr.P.C. has not been allowed its full play. The Constitution Bench in Sibbia’s case (supra) clearly mentioned that section 438 Cr.P.C. is extraordinary because it was incorporated in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and before that other provisions for grant of bail were sections 437 and 439 Cr.P.C. It is not extraordinary in the sense that it should be invoked only in exceptional or rare cases. Some courts of smaller strength have erroneously observed that section 438 Cr.P.C. should be invoked only in exceptional or rare cases. Those orders are contrary to the law laid down by the judgment of the Constitution Bench in Sibbia’s case (supra). According to the report of the National Police Commission, the power of arrest is grossly abused and clearly violates the personal liberty of the people, as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution, then the courts need to take serious notice of it. When conviction rate is admittedly less than 10%, then the police should be slow in arresting the accused. The courts considering the bail application should try to maintain fine balance between the societal interest vis-à-vis personal liberty while adhering to the fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence that the accused that the accused is presumed to be innocent till he is found guilty by the competent court.
97. A great ignominy, humiliation and disgrace is attached to the arrest. Arrest leads to many serious consequences not only for the accused but for the entire family and at times for the entire community. Most people do not make any distinction between arrest at a pre-conviction stage or post-conviction stage.

121. No inflexible guidelines or straitjacket formula can be provided for grant or refusal of anticipatory bail. We are clearly of the view that no attempt should be made to provide rigid and inflexible guidelines in this respect because all circumstances and situations of future cannot be clearly visualized for the grant or refusal of anticipatory bail. In consonance with the legislative intention the grant or refusal of anticipatory bail should necessarily depend on facts and circumstances of each case. As aptly observed in the Constitution Bench decision in Sibbia’s case (supra) that the High Court or the Court of Sessions to exercise their jurisdiction under section 438 Cr.P.C. by a wise and careful use of their discretion which by their long training and experience they are ideally suited to do. In any event, this is the legislative mandate which we are bound to respect and honour.
122. The following factors and parameters can be taken into consideration while dealing with the anticipatory bail: 
i. The nature and gravity of the accusation and the exact role of the accused must be properly comprehended before arrest is made;
ii. The antecedents of the applicant including the fact as to whether the accused has previously undergone imprisonment on conviction by a Court in respect of any cognizable offence;
iii. The possibility of the applicant to flee from justice; 
iv. The possibility of the accused’s likelihood to repeat similar or the other offences.
v. Where the accusations have been made only with the object of injuring or humiliating the applicant by arresting him or her.
vi. Impact of grant of anticipatory bail particularly in cases of large magnitude affecting a very large number of people.
vii. The courts must evaluate the entire available material against the accused very carefully. The court must also clearly comprehend the exact role of the accused in the case. The cases in which accused is implicated with the help of sections 34 and 149 of the Indian Penal Code, the court should consider with even greater care and caution because over implication in the cases is a matter of common knowledge and concern;
viii. While considering the prayer for grant of anticipatory bail, a balance has to be struck between two factors namely, no prejudice should be caused to the free, fair and full investigation and there should be prevention of harassment, humiliation and unjustified detention of the accused;
ix. The court to consider reasonable apprehension of tampering of the witness or apprehension of threat to the complainant;
x. Frivolity in prosecution should always be considered and it is only the element of genuineness that shall have to be considered in the matter of grant of bail and in the event of there being some doubt as to the genuineness of the prosecution, in the normal course of events, the accused is entitled to an order of bail.
123. The arrest should be the last option and it should be restricted to those exceptional cases where arresting the accused is imperative in the facts and circumstances of that case. 
124. The court must carefully examine the entire available record and particularly the allegations which have been directly attributed to the accused and these allegations are corroborated by other material and circumstances on record.
125. These are some of the factors which should be taken into consideration while deciding the anticipatory bail applications. These factors are by no means exhaustive but they are only illustrative in nature because it is difficult to clearly visualize all situations and circumstances in which a person may pray for anticipatory bail. If a wise discretion is exercised by the concerned judge, after consideration of entire material on record then most of the grievances in favour of grant of or refusal of bail will be taken care of. The legislature in its wisdom has entrusted the power to exercise this jurisdiction only to the judges of the superior courts. In consonance with the legislative intention we should accept the fact that the discretion would be properly exercised. In any event, the option of approaching the superior court against the court of Sessions or the High Court is always available.
126. Irrational and Indiscriminate arrest are gross violation of human rights. In Joginder Kumar’s case (supra), a three Judge Bench of this Court has referred to the 3rd report of the National Police Commission, in which it is mentioned that the quality of arrests by the Police in India mentioned power of arrest as one of the chief sources of corruption in the police. The report suggested that, by and large, nearly 60% of the arrests were either unnecessary or unjustified and that such unjustified police action accounted for 43.2% of the expenditure of the jails. 
127. Personal liberty is a very precious fundamental right and it should be curtailed only when it becomes imperative according to the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case.

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