Supreme Court stays Allahabad HC order which held fear of death due to COVID is ground for Anticipatory Bail

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed an order of the Allahabad High Court which had held that apprehension of death due to COVID-19 can be a ground for grant of anticipatory bail to an accused (State of UP v. Prateek Jain).

The Court was hearing an appeal by the Uttar Pradesh government against a recent Allahabad High Court order which held that the State lacks preparation and resources to tackle the COVID-19 crisis, and hence a person arrested is at risk of contracting the virus.

The Supreme Court while staying the observations made by the High Court on law did not stay the bail granted to the accused.

“As far as observations are concerned it remains stayed and courts shall not consider the said directions (of the High Court) while granting anticipatory bail and must consider merits of each case while deciding the same,” the Court ordered.

The High Court ruling had come in an anticipatory bail application before the High Court was filed by one Prateek Jain, who was charged under Sections 420, 467, 468, 471, 506 and 406 of the Indian Penal Code.

“Apprehension of an accused being infected with novel corona virus before and after his arrest and the possibility of his spreading the same while coming into contact with the police, Court and jail personnel or vice-versa can be considered to be a valid ground for grant of anticipatory bail to an accused,” the High Court had ruled.

Extraordinary times require extraordinary remedies, and law should also be interpreted in a manner which is in tune with the desperate times, the High Court had added.

The Uttar Pradesh government submitted before the Supreme Court that the High Court implies that administration of criminal justice “shall be kept in abeyance during the ongoing pandemic” and the “offenders shall enjoy a free hand while committing crimes with impunity during the ongoing pandemic which is not likely to end in the near future.”

It was further contended that “grant of anticipatory bail to the accused on the ground of his right to life and personal liberty has patently bent the scale of excessive rights towards the accused while overlooking the collective rights of the victims who seek justice for the wrongs committed by such accused persons”.

This could have wide ramifications on the pending applications seeking bail/ anticipatory bail before trial courts/ High Court in the State, the plea added.

The High Court, the UP government contended, overlooked the nature and gravity of offence, criminal antecedents of the accused, possibility of fleeing from justice being the grounds to be considered for consideration of an anticipatory bail application

That the jails are overcrowded and the accused is likely to contract COVID if arrested, cannot be the sole ground for grant of anticipatory bail, it was submitted.

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