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Gurbaksh Singh Sibbia Etc vs State Of Punjab on 9 April, 1980
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Clause 447 of the Draft Bill of 1970 was enacted with certain modifications and became Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 which we have extracted at the outset of this judgment.

The facility which Section 438 affords is generally referred to as 'anticipatory bail', an expression which was used by the Law Commission in its 41st report. Neither the section nor its marginal note so describes it but, the expression 'anticipatory bail' is a convenient mode of conveying that it is possible to apply for bail in anticipation of arrest. Any order of bail can, of course, be effective only from the time of arrest because, to grant bail, as stated in Wharton's Law Lexicon, is to 'set at liberty a person arrested or imprisoned, on security being taken for his appearance'. Thus, bail is basically release from restraint, more particularly, release from the custody of the police. The act of arrest directly affects freedom of movement of the person arrested by the police, and speaking generally, an order of bail gives back to the accused that freedom on condition that he will appear to take his trial. Personal recognisance, suretyship bonds and such other modalities are the means by which an assurance is secured from the accused that though he has been released on bail, he will present himself at the trial of offence or offences of which he is charged and for which he was arrested. The distinction between an ordinary order of bail and an order of anticipatory bail is that whereas the former is granted after arrest and therefore means release from the custody of the police, the latter is granted in anticipation of arrest and is therefore effective at the very moment of arrest. Police custody is an inevitable concomitant of arrest for non-bailable offences. An order of anticipatory bail constitutes, so to say, an insurance against police custody following upon arrest for offence or offences in respect of which the order is issued. In other words, unlike a post-arrest order of bail, it is a pre-arrest legal process which directs that if the person in whose favour it is issued is thereafter arrested on the accusation in respect of which the direction is issued, he shall be released on bail. Section 46(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure which deals with how arrests are to be made, provides that in making the arrest, the police officer or other person making the arrest "shall actually touch or confine the body of the person to be arrested, unless there be a submission to the custody by word or action". A direction under section 438 is intended to confer conditional immunity from this 'touch' or confinement.

Section 439 (1) (a) incorporates the conditions mentioned in Section 437 (3) if the offence in respect of which the bail is sought is of the nature specified in that sub-section. Section 439 reads thus :

The provisions of Section 437 and 439 furnished a convenient model for the legislature to copy while enacting Section 438. If it has not done so and has departed from a pattern which could easily be adopted with the necessary modifications, it would be wrong to refuse to give to the departure its full effect by assuming that it was not intended to serve any particular or specific purpose. The departure, in our opinion, was made advisedly and purposefully : Advisedly, at least in part, because of the 41st Report of the Law Commission which, while pointing out the necessity of introducing a provision in the Code enabling the High Court and the Court of Session to grant anticipatory bail, said in paragraph 29.9 that it had "considered" carefully the question of laying down in the statute certain conditions under which alone anticipatory bail could be granted" but had come to the conclusion that the question of granting such bail should be left "to the discretion of the court" and ought not to be fettered by the statutory provision itself, since the discretion was being conferred upon superior courts which were expected to exercise it judicially. The legislature conferred a wide discretion on the High Court and the Court of Session to grant anticipatory bail because it evidently felt, firstly, that it would be difficult to enumerate the conditions under which anticipatory bail should or should not be granted and secondly, because the intention was to allow the higher courts in the echelon a somewhat free hand in the grant of relief in the nature of anticipatory bail. That is why, departing from the terms of Sections 437 and 439, Section 438(1) uses the language that the High Court or the Court of Session "may, if it thinks fit" direct that the applicant be released on bail. Sub-section (2) of Section 438 is a further and clearer manifestation of the same legislative intent to confer a wide discretionary power to grant anticipatory bail. It provides that the High Court or the Court of Session, while issuing a direction for the grant of anticipatory bail, "may include such conditions in such directions in the light of the facts of the particular case, as it may think fit", including the conditions which are set out in clauses (i) to (iv) of sub-section (2). The proof of legislative intent can best be found in the language which the legislature uses. Ambiguities can undoubtedly be resolved by resort to extraneous aids but words, as wide and explicit as have been used in Section 438, must be given their full effect, especially when to refuse to do so will result in undue impairement of the freedom of the individual and the presumption of innocence. It has to be borne in mind that anticipatory bail is sought when there is a mere apprehension of arrest on the accusation that the applicant has committed a non-bailable offence. A person who has yet to lose his freedom by being arrested asks for freedom in the event of arrest. That is the stage at which it is imperative to protect his freedom, in so far as one may, and to give full play to the presumption that he is innocent. In fact, the stage at which anticipatory bail is generally sought brings about its striking dissimilarity with the situation in which a person who is arrested for the commission of a non-bailable offence asks for bail. In the latter situation, adequate data is available to the Court, or can be called for by it, in the light of which it can grant or refuse relief and while granting it, modify it by the imposition of all or any of the conditions mentioned in Section 437.

It is unnecessary to consider the third proposition of the High Court in any great details because we have already indicated that there is no justification for reading into Section 438 the limitations mentioned in Section 437. The High Court says that such limitations are implicit in Section 438 but, with respect, no such implications arise or can be read into that section. The plenitudes of the section must be given its full play.

The High Court says in its fourth proposition that in addition to the limitations mentioned in Section 437, the petitioner must make out a "special case" for the exercise of the power to grant anticipatory bail. This, virtually, reduces the salutary power conferred by Section 438 to a dead letter. In its anxiety, otherwise just, to show that the power conferred by Section 438 is not "unguided or uncanalised", the High Court has subjected that power to a restraint which will have the effect of making the power utterly unguided. To say that the applicant must make out a "special case" for the exercise of the power to grant anticipatory bail is really to say nothing. The applicant has undoubtedly to make out a case for the grant of anticipatory bail. But one cannot go further and say that he must make out a "special case". We do not see why the provisions of Section 438 should be suspected as containing something volatile or incendiary, which needs to be handled with the greatest care and caution imaginable. A wise exercise of judicial power inevitably takes care of the evil consequences which are likely to flow out of its intemperate use. Every kind of judicial discretion, whatever may be the nature of the matter in regard to which it is required to be exercised, has to be used with due care and caution. In fact, an awareness of the context in which the discretion is required to be exercised and of the reasonably foreseeable consequences of its use, is the hall mark of a prudent exercise of judicial discretion. One ought not to make a bugbear of the power to grant anticipatory bail.

In regard to anticipatory bail, if the proposed accusation appears to stem not from motives of furthering the ends of justice but from some ulterior motive, the object being to injure and humiliate the applicant by having him arrested, a direction for the release of the applicant on bail in the event of his arrest would generally be made. On the other hand, if it appears likely, considering the antecedents of the applicant, that taking advantage of the order of anticipatory bail he will flee from justice, such an order would not be made. But the converse of these propositions is not necessarily true. That is to say, it cannot be laid down as an inexorable rule that anticipatory bail cannot be granted unless the proposed accusation appears to be actuated by mala fides; and, equally, that anticipatory bail must be granted if there is no fear that the applicant will abscond. There are several other considerations, too numerous to enumerate, the combined effect of which must weigh with the court while granting or rejecting anticipatory bail. The nature and seriousness of the proposed charges, the context of the events likely to lead to the making of the charges, a reasonable possibility of the applicant's presence not being secured at the trial, a reasonable apprehension that witnesses will be tampered with and "the larger interests of the public or the state" are some of the considerations which the court has to keep in mind while deciding an application for anticipatory bail. The relevance of these considerations was pointed out in The State v. Captain Jagjit Singh, which, though, was a case under the old Section 498 which corresponds to the present Section 439 of the Code. It is of paramount consideration to remember that the freedom of the individual is as necessary for the survival of the society as it is for the egoistic purposes of the individual. A person seeking anticipatory bail is still a free man entitled to the presumption of innocence. He is willing to submit to restraints on his freedom, by the acceptance of conditions which the court may think fit to impose, in consideration of the assurance that if arrested, he shall be enlarged on bail.