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The Verdict Is In: Decoding The Arvind Kejriwal's Bail Case Controversy

Authored by Aryan Panwar, a 1st year law student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.


Lady Justice
Representational Image

Introduction

Kejriwal was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on March 21 in a money laundering case concerning the now-scrapped Delhi excise policy. On May 10, the Supreme Court, consisting of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta, granted him interim bail until June 1 to allow him to participate and campaign in the Lok Sabha election. Since Arvind Kejriwal was the first sitting chief minister of Delhi to be placed under arrest, his imprisonment was a historic political development and gained a lot of attention nationally and even internationally, making this judgement of paramount significance within Indian Jurisprudential Fabric.


Overview Of Arvind Kejriwal's Bail Case

The ED first summoned Arvind Kejriwal in October 2023 for the money laundering probe pertaining to the Delhi liquor policy. The ED detained Kejriwal on March 21, 2024, following multiple summonses that were not returned. The following day, March 22, 2024, a special court remanded him to ED custody.


The Delhi High Court rejected Kejriwal's bail application after multiple court appearances in April 2024. The Delhi High Court stated in its ruling that Kejriwal cannot be granted relief, but the arrest does not violate the law, and the remand cannot be deemed "illegal". Because the ED had enough substantial evidence with them, therefore, the bench of Justice Swarna Kanta Sharma saw fit to arrest Kejriwal. Kejriwal's refusal to participate in the probe and the delays it produced further had an adverse effect on the case.


However, on May 10, 2024, the Supreme Court granted him provisional release, valid until June 1, 2024, recognising that he must participate in the ongoing 18th Lok Sabha election campaign. The Supreme Court granted him 21 days of temporary release and ordered his surrender on June 2, 2024. The court also ordered Kejriwal to be away from his office and the Delhi secretariat. He was asked not to comment on the case publicly and to avoid interacting with witnesses during that period.

The ED opposed the bail, stating that it would create a bad precedent, and emphasised that politicians should not be treated differently for electioneering just because they are running for office.


Legal Standards And Principles At Play

The legal tenets that underpin Arvind Kejriwal's bail case encompass a number of crucial facets of Indian law, such as procedural justice, judicial discretion, and constitutional rights, while illustrating the difficulties in striking a balance between an individual's rights and the demands of justice and the public interest. 


Presumption of Innocence

Rights and justice are inextricably linked. Since equal rights and obligations are the foundation of justice, it is necessary to balance the rights of both sides in criminal proceedings in order to achieve the goals of justice. A miscarriage of justice will result from carelessness or bias toward anyone's rights. One of the main tenets of our criminal justice system is the defendant's right to have their innocence maintained until their guilt is established.


Some provisions in Indian criminal law operate on this concept, even if they are not expressly stated in the statute. The Indian Evidence Act's Sections 101 and 102 state that anyone asking a court to rule on a legal right or obligation must provide evidence to support their claims. Also, ‘Bail, not jail’ is not a slogan but the manifestation of a right to personal liberty given to an arrested person, flowing out of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.


This principle is acknowledged by the Supreme Court's decision to grant Kejriwal interim release, which permits him to participate in election campaigning while the judicial proceedings are ongoing. Led by Senior Advocate A.M. Singhvi, his defence team contended that Kejriwal's arrest did not satisfy the requirements outlined in the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, implying that his imprisonment was arbitrary and politically motivated.


Furthermore,  Sebastian Fischer, a spokesperson for Germany's foreign ministry, also remarked at a press conference, “The presumption of innocence is a central element of the rule of law and must apply to it [Kejriwal's case]”


Right to bail under Article 21

'Bail, not jail' is not a slogan, but the manifestation of a right to personal liberty given to an arrested person, flowing out of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The Indian Constitution's Article 21 guarantees of life and personal liberty are inextricably related to the right to bail. Article 21 provides that "no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law." Bail is an essential tool for protecting this freedom since it makes sure that people aren't wrongfully imprisoned without following a proper and lawful procedure.


In consonance with that, Justices C.T. Ravikumar and Krishna Murari, who make up the Supreme Court bench in the case of Ritu Chhabaria v. Union of India, have ruled that the ability to be released on bond is a basic right. This decision emphasises how the Indian Constitution's Article 21, which protects the right to life and personal freedom, directly supports the right to bail. The court stressed that denying someone bail without reasonable grounds is against this fundamental right and should be taken into consideration under Article 32 of the Constitution, which gives people the ability to petition the Supreme Court to have their rights upheld.


In the context of Arvind Kejriwal's case, this fundamental safeguard is upheld by the Supreme Court's decision to grant temporary release. The court's decision acknowledges that bail is a way to prevent Kejriwal's personal freedom from being unnecessarily constrained. At the same time, he awaits trial, striking a balance between the necessity for judicial control and the freedom of the individual.​ 


Moreover, the Supreme Court ruled in Mukesh Kishanpuria v. State of West Bengal that the authority to give interim bail is inherent in the ability to grant regular bail, especially in light of Article 21 of the Constitution. This precedent adds further credence to the idea that granting bail is necessary to protect people's personal freedom and prevent unjust detention.​


Judicial Discretion under Sections 437 and 439 of the CrPC

Judicial discretion is the term used to describe judges' authority to enact and interpret legislation. Judicial freedom, to put it simply, means that the court is granted some leeway in how it decides on such cases. This is covered by the separation of powers theory and falls under judicial independence. 


Even though the crime committed is not bailable, there are circumstances under which a person may request bail, as outlined in Section 437 of the code. In such a case, the bench's discretion, which is primarily predicated on the petitioner's eligibility for bail, is paramount to an individual's right to get bail. Certain extraordinary circumstances are provided for in Section 437, paragraph (3). 


"In the matter of Athar Pervez v. State”, Justice Sanjiv Khanna, in a ruling issued by the Delhi High Court, made references to key judgements such as Siddharam Satlingappa Mhetre v. State of Maharashtra and Others, Shri Gurbaksh Singh Sibbia and Others v. State of Punjab, and Central Inland Water Transport Corporation Limited and Another v. Brojo Nath Ganguly and Another. These cases collectively emphasise the concept of interim bail, which, although not explicitly defined in the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), 1973, is a recognised legal measure used to grant temporary release under urgent circumstances, even when regular bail is not warranted. Therefore, Within the context of Arvind Kejriwal's legal situation, the Supreme Court's decision to provide temporary release demonstrates the utilisation of its judicial discretion.

 

In continuance, there are some additional factors involved in affecting the decision of the Supreme Court:


  1. Considerations for Bail: The individual known as Arvind Kejriwal currently holds the position of Chief Minister of Delhi and plays a key role in a national political party. Despite being accused of serious wrongdoings, no evidence has been found to prove his guilt. Arvind Kejriwal has a clean record devoid of any criminal behaviour, posing no threat to society. The investigation regarding this matter has been ongoing since August 2022, with Kejriwal being taken into custody on March 21, 2024. It's important to highlight that his arrest's legality is being disputed in court, and a final decision is yet to be reached on this issue.

  2. Extraordinary Situation: Interim release may be provided in exceptional situations to prevent the legal process from excessively disrupting fundamental rights and duties. The court has frequently highlighted the significance of elections in a democracy, describing them as the barometer and lifeline of the parliamentary system. For instance, the Supreme Court of India granted temporary release to Arvind Kejriwal during the Lok Sabha election campaign, respecting the need to harmonise legal proceedings with the democratic exercise. 

A similar pertinent judicial approach can be observed in the State of Andhra Pradesh v. Nara Chandra Babu Naidu case. Here, another division bench of the Supreme Court, through an interim directive, eliminated the restriction that prohibited the respondent from arranging or joining public gatherings. The request for special leave to appeal in this instance remains pending.


Specific Contentions Raised In The Decision

During the court proceedings, several key arguments were put forward by the ED  and carefully considered by the judges. The contentions raised by the parties involved were central to the decision-making process and had a significant impact on the final outcome.


Violation of Article 14:

The ED has put forth a strong argument against granting interim bail based on the right to campaign, citing concerns about equality before the law as guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution. They believe that recognising a special right for campaigning could lead to similar considerations for other urgent professional needs, such as a farmer's need to harvest crops or a company director's attendance at crucial board meetings. Government representatives and legal experts have further echoed these sentiments, emphasising that prioritising political activities over other important obligations could create an unfair hierarchy of rights and potentially violate the equal protection clause of Article 14. In essence, the debate revolves around the potential discrimination that recognising a special right to campaign could bring about.


Non-Compliance with Summons- A Legal Snub?:

Arvind Kejriwal's case revolves around his repeated failure to appear in response to multiple notices from the ED. Despite being issued nine summonses, starting from October 2023, Kejriwal did not comply with any of them, which played a crucial role in the legal labyrinth. The ED contended that Kejriwal's consistent absence reflected a lack of respect for the legal system, making it challenging to decide on granting him bail. This ongoing situation highlights the importance of adhering to legal processes and the consequences of disregarding official summonses.


Gravity of Offense:

The gravity of the alleged wrongdoing prompted the ED to invoke the provisions delineated within Section 19 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA). Given the severity of the accusations and the potential ramifications on the integrity of the financial system, the ED advocated for stringent judicial examination, arguing that the circumstances warranted the denial of bail.


A Dangerous Precedent: In the ongoing legal discussions surrounding Arvind Kejriwal's bail case, a stark difference came to light between the privileges enjoyed by a political figure like Kejriwal and the harsh realities faced by many ordinary prisoners and their families. The talk mainly centred around Kejriwal's right to campaign during elections, which is not considered absolute. Advocate Mehta made a strong point, suggesting that granting temporary bail to Kejriwal would set a troubling precedent, leading to an unfair gap in the treatment of politicians and non-political prisoners. This stance highlighted the unfairness in the legal system, where the needs of the less fortunate often take a backseat to the privileges of the powerful.


Conclusion

The legal complexities and ethical considerations highlighted in the Arvind Kejriwal bail case emphasise the delicate balance between individual rights, procedural justice, and the legal system's requirements. The Supreme Court's decision to grant Kejriwal temporary release recognises the importance of upholding fundamental rights like the presumption of innocence and the right to bail, as well as the significant role of democratic processes, such as elections, in a thriving democracy.


Nonetheless, the case underscores the significance of finding a middle ground that reconciles privileges granted to political figures with the fair treatment of all individuals under the law. It is crucial to acknowledge the value of political engagement and democratic representation while ensuring that legal proceedings are executed fairly and impartially, regardless of one's status or influence.


Looking ahead, the judiciary must exercise discretion thoughtfully, considering the unique circumstances of each case and upholding justice, equality, and the rule of law. By maintaining a balance between protecting individual rights and upholding public interest, the legal system can navigate complex situations like the Arvind Kejriwal bail case with integrity and openness, guaranteeing equitable justice for all involved.

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