Arnab Goswami vs Maharashtra Police: The Supreme Court on Friday came down hard on the Bombay High Court for ‘abdicating’ its ‘constitutional duty’ by denying interim relief to Arnab Goswami, Editor-in-chief of Republic TV. The top court said that the case against Goswami did not prima face establish the offence of abetment of suicide and the High Court failed in making even a prima facie evaluation of the FIR. “The striking aspect of the impugned judgment of the High Court spanning over fifty-six pages is the absence of any evaluation even prima facie of the most basic issue. The High Court, in other words, failed to apply its mind to a fundamental issue which needed to be considered while dealing with a petition for quashing under Article 226 of the Constitution or Section 482 of the CrPC,” the SC said in its 55-page order judgement today.
The apex court further said that the High Court, by its judgment dated 9 November, had instead allowed the petition for quashing to stand over for hearing a month later, and therefore declined to allow the appellant‘s prayer for interim bail. “In the meantime, liberty has been the casualty. The High Court having failed to evaluate prima facie whether the allegations in the FIR, taken as they stand, bring the case within the fold of Section 306 read with Section 34 of the IPC, this Court is now called upon to perform the task,” the top court said.
On November 11, the SC had granted interim relief to Arnab Goswami who was denied bail by the High Court on November 9. Goswami was picked up by Maharashtra police in a abetment to suicide case which was closed in 2018 but re-opened earlier this year on the order of Home Minister Anil Deshmukh.
The High Court had refused the bail saying Arnab should approach Session Court first. However, the Supreme Court took very strong exception to the HC’s order and said that the petition before the High Court was instituted under Article 226 of the Constitution and Section 482 of the CrPC. “While dealing with the petition under section 482 for quashing the FIR, the High Court has not considered whether prima facie the ingredients of the offence have been made out in the FIR,” the SC said.
The top court further said that if the High Court were to have carried out this exercise, it would have been apparent that the ingredients of the offence have not prima facie been established. “As a consequence of its failure to perform its function under Section 482, the High Court has disabled itself from exercising its jurisdiction under Article 226 to consider the appellant‘s application for bail,” the SC noted in its historic judgement.
The SC said that the misuse of the criminal law was a matter of which the High Court and the lower Courts in this country must be alive. It said that in the present case (Arnab vs Maharashtra), the “High Court could not but have been cognizant of the specific ground which was raised before it by the appellant that he (Arnab Goswami) was being made a target as a part of a series of occurrences which have been taking place since April 2020”.
“…we are clearly of the view that in failing to make even a prima facie evaluation of the FIR, the High Court abdicated its constitutional duty and function as a protector of liberty. Courts must be alive to the need to safeguard the public interest in ensuring that the due enforcement of criminal law is not
obstructed,” the highest court noted.
In its detailed observation on where HC erred, the Supreme Court said that there was a failure on part of the High Court to discharge its adjudicatory function at two levels – first in declining to evaluate prima facie at the interim stage in a petition for quashing the FIR as to whether an arguable case had been made out, and secondly, in declining interim bail – as a consequence of its failure to render a prima facie opinion on the first. The SC said that the High Court did have the power to protect the citizen by an interim order in a petition invoking Article 226.