Accused, their personal liberty should not suffer due to 'dharna' by CM, Law Min: SC

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New Delhi, May 25 (PTI) Observing that while it did not approve 'dharna' by the Chief Minister and the Law Minister against CBI arresting four West Bengal leaders in the Narada bribery case, the Supreme Court Tuesday said the accused and their personal liberty should not suffer either on account of such protests.

Permitting the probe agency to withdraw its plea against the Calcutta High Court order allowing house arrest of the leaders, including three from TMC, in the case, the bench however made clear that it has not made any observation on the merits of the case.

'We will make it very clear that we do not appreciate the 'dharnas'. But, if the Chief Minister (Mamata Banerjee) or the Law Minister take the law into their hands, should the accused suffer because of it. You can proceed against those persons who have taken law into their hands', a vacation bench of justices Vineet Saran and B R Gavai said.

“Liberty of a person is the first thing to be seen” and it cannot be mixed with other issues such as Chief Minister's dharna and public protests against arrests by CBI, the top court said and the response of the bench made CBI decide to withdraw the appeal. The crucial hearing in the politically sensitive case began with vehement submissions of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

He urged the top court not to see the case as a CBI plea for cancellation of bail in the criminal case and said that it pertained to a larger issue of erosion of public faith in justice delivery system in view of the fact that the Chief Minister of a state sat on a 'dharna' to restrain probe agency from performing duties.

The persons holding Constitutional posts did not leave the CBI court premises till the bail was granted to the accused, the law officer said, adding that 'this happens in this state periodically. The Chief Minister barges into police stations to help the accused'.

However the court has some searching questions for CBI such as why the bail pleas are allowed after filing of charge sheets in criminal cases and here, why the agency decided to arrest the leaders after filing of the probe reports. “Whether the accused against whom the charge sheet is filed are more in a position to influence the case than the accused against whom the charge sheet has not been filed,” the bench said.

Referring to his experience as lawyer and judge, Justice Gavai said the accused are usually granted bail after filing of charge sheets.

The case did not merely involve the issue of bail and rather pertained to the larger issues of “rule of law” and “we are reducing a very serious issue to bail being granted,” the law officer said.

“We have to see if bail can be granted or not. With regard to other issues, other remedies are there. In a bail matter, how far can a person go. Liberty of a person is the first thing to be seen. Conduct of others is to be seen in relevant proceedings,” the bench said.

If liberty is taken away, there is law and if there is pressure from constitutional authorities, then that is not liberty in accordance with law, Mehta responded.

“The bail order (of CBI court) is vitiated. The Chief Minister sits in the court complex till the proceedings are over,” the law officer added.

“We don't feel the district judiciary is that weak to be influenced like this. We do not want to demoralise our judiciary,” the bench said.

They are all humans, replied the law officer.

Justice Gavai then narrated his personal experience saying that once an attempt was made to pressurize him and was asked not to pass orders on an anticipatory bail plea.

“I asked the police to take action and I would pass the order which I have to pass,” Justice Gavai said, adding that CBI was free to take action against those who restrained it from performing its duties.

“You can take action against whosoever has done wrong. Nobody is above law,” the bench said.

The bench referred to an initial order of the Calcutta High Court staying the grant of bail to accused leaders by the CBI court saying, 'We have seen special benches being assigned to deal with liberty. But this is the first time a special bench is assigned to take away liberty.' The top law officer mentioned the unprecedented circumstances under which such an order was passed saying a political mob had seized the CBI office and its public prosecutor could not go to the court.

At fag end of the hearing, CBI decided to take back the plea which was allowed by the court saying its observations were not on merits of the case.

The CBI had sought transfer of the case alleging extraordinary circumstances wherein West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sat on a dharna in the CBI office after the arrests and the agency not being able to produce the four accused in court physically owing to unruly protests by a large number of people outside its office complex. PTI SJK ABA MNL SA

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