Default bail can be cancelled on merits after submission of charge sheet: SC

The Supreme Court on Monday held that default bail granted to an accused can be cancelled on merits — if a strong case is made out on filing of a charge sheet — as there cannot be a premium on a lethargic probe.

A bench headed by Justice M.R. Shah directed the Telangana High Court to consider on merits the CBI’s plea for cancellation of bail to Erra Gangi Reddy in connection with the murder of former Andhra Pradesh minister Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy, uncle of Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy. He was found murdered at his residence in Pulivendula on March 15, 2019.

The bench, also comprising Justice C.T. Ravikumar, noted that mere non-filing of the charge sheet (within the deadline) will not be enough when a strong case is made out against the accused as it remanded that matter back to the high court to consider it afresh in accordance with law and on merits.

“The courts have the power to cancel the bail and to examine the merits in a case where the accused is released on default bail and released not on merits earlier. Such an interpretation would be in furtherance to the administration of justice,” it said in its judgment.

The top court was considering whether bail can be cancelled after presentation of the charge sheet, when the bail was granted for not filing the charge sheet within 90 days.

The bench noted that mere filing of charge sheet will not result in cancellation unless a strong case is made out that the accused has committed a non-bailable offence.

The top court allowed an appeal by the CBI against the Andhra Pradesh High Court’s judgment of March 16, 2022, seeking to cancel the default bail granted to T. Gangi Reddy alias Yerra Gangi Reddy in the murder case. The high court judgment said once default bail under Section 167(2) Criminal Procedure Code is granted, it cannot be cancelled.

The apex court said if this was accepted, then “it will be giving a premium to the lethargic and/or negligence, may be in a given case of deliberate attempt on the part of the investigating agency not to file the charge sheet within the prescribed time period”.

“Subsequently on curing the defects and filing the charge sheet, though a strong case is made out that an accused has committed the very serious offence and non-bailable crime, the court cannot cancel the bail and commit the person into custody and not to consider the gravity of the offence committed by the accused, the courts will be loathe for such an interpretation, as that would frustrate justice.”

Additional Solicitor General K.M. Nataraj, representing the CBI, submitted that the default bail is granted on failure of the investigating agency to file the charge sheet within the stipulated time.

The top court added that courts have the power to cancel the bail and to examine the merits of the case in a case where the accused is released on default bail and released not on merits earlier. Such an interpretation would be in furtherance to the administration of justice, said the bench.

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