NEW DELHI: Prima facie evaluation of the FIR against journalist Arnab Goswami and two others did not establish the ingredients of the offence of abetment to suicide, the Supreme Court said on Friday coming down strongly on the Bombay High Court for not noticing the 'disconnect' between the allegations against them in the complaints and the legal provisions.
These important observations of the apex court came in the judgment by which it extended the interim bail granted to Goswami and two others in the 2018 abetment to suicide case.
A bench of justices D Y Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee said that the high court should not foreclose itself from the exercise of the power when a citizen has been 'arbitrarily deprived of their personal liberty in an excess of state power.'
"In this batch of cases, a prima facie evaluation of the FIR does not establish the ingredients of the offence of abetment of suicide under Section 306 of the IPC. The appellants are residents of India and do not pose a flight risk during the investigation or the trial."
"There is no apprehension of tampering of evidence or witnesses. Taking these factors into consideration, the order dated 11 November 2020 envisaged the release of the appellants on bail," the top court said.
The top court said however that since the proceedings are pending before the high court its views were limited to the grant of interim protection to Goswami and others only.
"If the High Court were to carry out a prima facie evaluation, it would have been impossible for it not to notice the disconnect between the FIR and the provisions of Section 306 of the IPC. The failure of the High Court to do so has led it to adopt a position where it left the appellant to pursue his remedies for regular bail under Section 439."
"The High Court was clearly in error in failing to perform a duty which is entrusted to it while evaluating a petition under Section 482 albeit at the interim stage," the verdict said.
Goswami, Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, Neetish Sarda, and Feroz Mohammad Shaikh was arrested by Alibaug police in Maharashtra's Raigad district on November 4 in connection with the suicide of architect-interior designer Anvay Naik and his mother in 2018 over alleged non-payment of dues by companies of the accused.
The top court said the FIR does not disclose the accused's commission of suicide as under section 306, "they must have played an active role by an act of instigation or by doing the certain actions to facilitate the commission of suicide".
"We are clearly of the view that in failing to make even a prima facie evaluation of the FIR, the High Court abdicated its constitutional duty and function as a protector of liberty. Courts must be alive to the need to safeguard the public interest in ensuring that the due enforcement of criminal law is not obstructed. The fair investigation of crime is an aid to it," it said.
It said that the High Court "failed to apply its mind to a fundamental issue" which needed to be considered while dealing with a petition for quashing of an FIR.
It summarized important factors to be taken note of by the high courts in dealing with bail pleas and said "the nature of the alleged offense, the nature of the accusation and the severity of the punishment in the case of a conviction" is one of them.