Right of Custodial Interrogation or Probe Important to Unearth Truth: SC

The Supreme Court said on Monday the right of custodial interrogation or investigation is a very important right in favour of a probe agency to unearth the truth and no accused can be permitted to frustrate the judicial process by his conduct.

The apex court said this in its judgement on an appeal filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against the verdict of the Calcutta High Court in September last year ordering the release of an accused on statutory or default bail under section 167(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

A bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar permitted the CBI to have the custody of the accused for four days on the ground that pursuant to an order of April 16, 2021 passed by the special judge the agency was granted the remand of the accused for seven days but it could interrogate him only for two-and-a-half days and failed to exercise the right of interrogation for the full period of seven days.

Terming the facts of the case as “very glaring”, the top court said despite the fact that the special judge had on April 16, 2021 allowed the police (CBI) custody of the accused for seven days, he got himself admitted in a hospital on April 18, 2021 and obtained interim bail on April 21, 2021 which came to be extended till December 8, 2021.

It noted that his interim bail came to be cancelled by the special judge on observing that the accused had misused the liberty shown to him, and during the interim bail, he has not cooperated with the investigating agency.

The bench said the accused had “successfully avoided” the full operation of the order of police custody granted by the special judge.

“No accused can be permitted to play with the investigation and/or the court’s process. No accused can be permitted to frustrate the judicial process by his conduct,” it said.

“It cannot be disputed that the right of custodial interrogation/investigation is also a very important right in favour of the investigating agency to unearth the truth, which the accused has purposely and successfully tried to frustrate. Therefore, by not permitting the CBI to have the police custody interrogation for the remainder period of seven days, it will be giving a premium to an accused who has been successful in frustrating the judicial process,” the top court said.

It noted that in November 2020, an FIR/complaint came to be registered by the CBI (ACB, Kolkata) against the officials of Eastern Coalfields Limited, the CISF, the Railways and others for the commission of alleged offences including those of criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code as well as under the relevant provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The accused was arrested by the CBI on April 16, 2021 and remanded in its custody for a period of seven days till April 22, 2021.

It noted that after his interim bail was cancelled on December 8, 2021, he was arrested again on December 11, 2021 and was remanded in judicial custody.

The bench said later, the accused sought default bail under section 167(2) CrPC on the ground of non-filing of the charge sheet within the prescribed period of 90 days and the special judge rejected his application.

On July 19 last year, the CBI filed a charge sheet against the accused and cognisance was taken by the special court on the same date, the bench noted.

It said against the special judge’s order rejecting his application for statutory or default bail under section 167(2) of the CrPC, the accused approached the high court which directed his release on statutory or default bail.

During the arguments, the counsel appearing on behalf of the CBI urged the apex court to grant police custody remand of the accused for the remainder period which the agency could not exercise as he got himself hospitalised and was released on interim bail.

“While considering the prayer of the CBI for police custody for the remainder period of seven days, it is required to be noted that as such the special judge granted seven days police custody of the respondent-accused on April 16, 2021. The order granting seven days police custody as such had attained finality,” the bench noted in its verdict.

The bench said it is true that in the case of Anupam J Kulkarni, the apex court had observed that there cannot be any police custody beyond 15 days from the date of arrest.

“In our opinion, the view taken by this court in the case of Anupam J Kulkarni requires re-consideration,” it noted. 

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