[Northeast Riots 2020] 'Accused Cannot Be Blamed For Delay In Pursuing His Legal Remedy': Delhi HC In Sharjeel Imam's Appeal

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Sharjeel Imam was granted bail, setting aside the order of the trial court. However, he will remain imprisoned due to ongoing charges related to the larger conspiracy case of the Delhi riots involving charges under UAPA

The Delhi High Court, recently in Sharjeel Imam's appeal against the trial court's denial of bail, opined that an accused who is pursuing their legal remedies following specific judicial pronouncements could not be held accountable for any delays in the proceedings. The court noted that the trial court lacked a justifiable reason to deny bail to Imam. Therefore, the court granted bail to Imam, and set aside the order of the trial court. 

The bench of Justice Suresh Kumar Kait and Justice Manoj Jain held, “If any accused chooses to avail legal remedy and that too in terms of specific judicial pronouncement, he cannot be blamed for causing delay in the matter. Since he continued to be in detention, he was, even otherwise, not going to dig out any advantage at all, by exploring such other possible legal avenues”. 

Imam, who was apprehended in January 2020, faced charges under the Sedition and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for allegedly delivering incendiary speeches in Delhi's Jamia area and at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in December 2019. Imam, represented by Advocate Talib Mustafa, appealed to the high court, challenging the trial court's order to deny his bail petition. Despite having spent four years in detention, the trial court refused his bail application due to the gravity of the allegations against him.

However, Special Public Prosecutor Rajat Nair contended that bail could be denied if the delay was caused by the accused. He argued that the trial stay in 2022 occurred at the Imam’s request, and he sought to benefit from serving half of the maximum sentence while avoiding the trial.

The court outright opined that bail was not automatically granted and could not be claimed as a matter of right per section 436A CrPC. “As per proviso, discretion is vested in the Court and it may, for reasons to be recorded in writing, decline the bail and may order for continued detention of such person for a further period”, the court added. 

The court emphasized that the purpose of the said section was to prevent undertrial prisoners from being detained beyond half the maximum sentence for their offences. “Undoubtedly, as per proviso, Court can order further detention but the reasons have to be rational and logical, else the very purpose of introducing the provision would stand defeated”, the court observed.

Furthermore, the court examined the impugned order and held, “It was neither pointed out that any period was liable to be excluded on the ground that any delay had been caused by the appellant nor there is any observation to said effect by the learned Trial Court”. The court noted that the impugned order (denying bail to Imam) failed to provide any rationale.

Additionally, the court highlighted that an accused, pursuing legal remedies following judicial pronouncements, could not be blamed for delays in proceedings. Since the accused has remained in detention, exploring other legal avenues would not have provided any advantage. Therefore, the court noted that there was “nothing on record which could have disentitled the accused from seeking relief under Section 436-A Cr.P.C”.

Accordingly, the court set aside the impugned order and granted bail to Sharjeel Imam. 

Case Title: Sharjeel Imam v State Of NCT Delhi & Anr. (2024:DHC:4570-DB)