The Supreme Court on Monday said the victims, in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence incident, were denied a fair and effective hearing at the time of granting bail to accused Ashish Mishra, and observed that the Allahabad High Court exceeded its jurisdiction by dwelling on the merits of the case and showed “tearing hurry” in granting bail.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli said: “In the present case, the victims have been denied a fair and effective hearing at the time of granting bail to the Respondent-Accused (Mishra).”
It cancelled bail bonds of Mishra, son of Union Minister and BJP leader Ajay Mishra, and directed him to surrender within a week.
Remitting the matter back to the high court for fresh consideration, the bench said: “We have not expressed any opinion either on facts or merits, and all questions of law are left open for the High Court to consider and decide. The High Court shall decide the bail application afresh expeditiously, and preferably within a period of three months.”
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing the victims’ families, submitted that during the course of the online proceedings, counsel for the victims were disconnected, and were not heard by the high court. He said that their application for re-hearing the bail application was also not considered by the high court.
Justice Surya Kant, who authored the order on behalf of the bench, said: “If the right to file an appeal against acquittal, is not accompanied with the right to be heard at the time of deciding a bail application, the same may result in grave miscarriage of justice.”
The bench said that the victims certainly cannot be expected to be sitting on the fence and watching the proceedings from afar, especially when they may have legitimate grievances. “It is the solemn duty of a court to deliver justice before the memory of an injustice eclipses,” it added.
“Adverting to the case at hand, we are constrained to express our disappointment with the manner in which the High Court has failed to acknowledge the right of the victims.”
The bench observed that instead of looking into aspects such as the nature and gravity of the offence, and severity of the punishment in the event of conviction, the high court adopted a myopic view of the evidence on the record and proceeded to decide the case on merits.
“The high court has taken into account several irrelevant considerations, whilst simultaneously ignoring judicial precedents and established parameters for grant of bail,” it held.
Justice Surya Kant noted that it has been ruled on numerous occasions that an FIR cannot be treated as an encyclopaedia of events. “While the allegations in the FIR, that the accused used his firearm and the subsequent post mortem and injury reports may have some limited bearing, there was no legal necessity to give undue weightage to the same,” said the bench.
It added that the observations on merits of a case when the trial has yet to commence, are likely to have an impact on the outcome of the trial proceedings.
The bench said: “We are, thus, of the view that this court on account of the factors like (i) irrelevant considerations having impacted the impugned order granting bail; (ii) the High Court exceeding its jurisdiction by touching upon the merits of the case; (iii) denial of victims’ right to participate in the proceedings; and (iv) the tearing hurry shown by the High Court in entertaining or granting bail to the respondent/ accused; can rightfully cancel the bail.”
The high court had noted that the post-mortem report did not show any firearm injuries on the deceased, though in the FIR, it was alleged that Mishra had fired at the protestors.
Dave had contended that the high court relied upon the post mortem report, to point out contents of the FIR, which claimed death by bullet injuries was not correct. He said the high court had ignored the SIT report as well as the charge sheet, including statements of witnesses.
A court-appointed SIT headed by Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain, former judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court, had recommended that the state government should have filed an appeal against the high court’s order.
Mishra was arrested on October 9 last year in the case. On October 3, 2021, eight people, including four farmers, were killed in Lakhimpur Kheri in clashes during a farmers’ protest. He was granted bail by the high court on February 10.
The family members of the farmers, mowed down by a car belonging to Mishra, in Lakhimpur Kheri, had moved the top court challenging bail granted to him. They claimed that the state has not filed an appeal opposing bail granted to Mishra.