Court should consider default bail application filed online via e-filing; should not insist on physical filing: Kerala High Court

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The Kerala High Court on Thursday held that a default bail application filed through online mode via e-filing can be considered by court for grant of bail and the Court need not insist on physically filing such application [Akhil AP & Anr. v State of Kerala & Anr.].

Single-judge Justice A Badharudeen said that courts cannot ignore such e-filed applications, especially since the judiciary is moving towards making e-filing mandatory in all courts in the country.

“Now we are in the E-world. In many Courts e-filing is made mandatory and steps to complete mandatory e-filing in all Courts in India are on its final call. Such being the scenario, how can a court ignore an application filed through e-filing mode to hold that there was no petition filed within time for want of production of physical copy of the same within time,” the Court said in its judgment.

The Court noted that the legal position is settled that even an oral application would satisfy the requirement of default bail.

“No doubt, in such a case involving the question as to whether the accused filed an application for statutory bail within time, by filing the same in e-filing mode, it has to be held that the accused expressed his preparedness to be released on statutory bail within time and to furnish bail, by filing application for bail through the e-filing mode,” the Court held.

It further observed that the Court has a duty to inform the accused of their legal right under Section 167(2)(a) of Code of Criminal Procedure, since it is an indispensable right of personal liberty, guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

The Court was considering a plea moved by two men accused of brutally beating up and eventually killing two men, one of whom belonged to a scheduled tribe.

They approached the High Court challenging the order of a Special Court for Trial of offences under Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, dismissing their application for default bail.

The Special Court had declined to grant bail since the physical copy of the application was not filed before the prosecution filed the final report.

The petitioners contended that the Special Court should have considered the fact that they had filed the applications for statutory bail online, and on time.

On going through Section 167(2)(a) of the CrPC, the Court opined that the relevant point of consideration is whether the accused (petitioners) were prepared to furnish bail, on expiry of 90 days, that too, before filing of the final report.

It then went through the judgment in Rakesh Kumar Paul v. State of Assam in which the apex court had held that whether the accused makes a written application for default bail or an oral application for default bail is of no consequence. It had also observed that the history of the personal liberty jurisprudence of the top court and other Constitutional courts includes petitions for a writ of habeas corpus and for other writs being entertained even on the basis of a letter addressed to the Chief Justice or the Court.

In the case on hand, the Court found that the application for statutory bail was filed through e-filing mode a day before the charge sheet was filed. However, it was physically submitted before the court on October 11, 2022 at 11 am, in a case where charge sheet was filed at 10 am on the same day.

In such a situation, the Special Court should have considered the e-filed application for statutory bail, the High Court opined.

Therefore, it set aside the order of the Special Court and granted bail to the petitioners while imposing a set of conditions.

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