Judicial Dictionary

Judicial discretion (Bail Context)

In the case of Gudikanti Narasimhulu v. Public Prosecutor, (1978) 1 SCC 240, V.R. Krishna Iyer, J., sitting as Chamber Judge, enunciated the principles of bail thus:

What, then, is “judicial discretion” in this bail context In the elegant words of Benjamin Cardozo:

The Judge, even when he is free, is still not wholly free. He is not to innovate at pleasure. He is not a knight-errant roaming at will in pursuit of his own ideal of beauty or of goodness. He is to draw his inspiration from consecrated principles. He is not to yield to spasmodic sentiment, to vague and unregulated benevolence. He is to exercise a discretion informed by tradition, methodized by analogy, disciplined by system, and subordinated to “the primordial necessity of order in the social life”. Wide enough in all conscience is the field of discretion that remains.

Even so it is useful to notice the tart terms of Lord Camden that the discretion of a Judge is the law of tyrants: it is always unknown, it is different in different men; it is casual, and depends upon constitution, temper and passion. In the best, it is oftentimes caprice; in the worst, it is every vice, folly and passion to which human nature is liable…

Perhaps, this is an overly simplistic statement and we must remember the constitutional focus in Articles 21 and 19 before following diffuse observations and practices in the English system. Even in England there is a growing awareness that the working of the bail system requires a second look from the point of view of correct legal criteria and sound principles, as has been pointed out by Dr Bottomley.

Let us have a glance at the pros and cons and the true principle around which other relevant factors must revolve. When the case is finally disposed of and a person is sentenced to incarceration, things stand on a different footing. We are concerned with the penultimate stage and the principal rule to guide release on bail should be to secure the presence of the applicant who seeks to be liberated, to take judgment and serve sentence in the event of the Court punishing him with imprisonment. In this perspective, relevance of considerations is regulated by their nexus with the likely absence of the applicant for fear of a severe sentence, if such be plausible in the case. As Erle. J. indicated, when the crime charged (of which a conviction has been sustained) is of the highest magnitude and the punishment of it assigned by law is of extreme severity, the Court may reasonably presume, some evidence warranting, that no amount of bail would secure the presence of the convict at the stage of judgment, should he be enlarged. Lord Campbell, C.J. concurred in this approach in that case and Coleridge J. set down the order of priorities as follows:

I do not think that an accused party is detained in custody because of his guilt, but because there are sufficient probable grounds for the charge against him as to make it proper that he should be tried, and because the detention is necessary to ensure his appearance at trial. It is a very important element in considering whether the party, if admitted to bail, would appear to take his trial; and I think that in coming to a determination on that point three elements will generally be found the most important: the charge, the nature of the evidence by which it is supported, and the punishment to which the party would be liable if convicted.

In the present case, the charge is that of wilful murder; the evidence contains an admission by the prisoners of the truth of the charge, and the punishment of the offence is, by law, death.

It is thus obvious that the nature of the charge is the vital factor and the nature of the evidence also is pertinent. The punishment to which the party may be liable, if convicted or conviction is confirmed, also bears upon the issue.

Another relevant factor is as to whether the course of justice would be thwarted by him who seeks the benignant jurisdiction of the Court to be freed for the time being.

Thus the legal principles and practice validate the Court considering the likelihood of the applicant interfering with witnesses for the prosecution or otherwise polluting the process of justice. It is not only traditional but rational, in this context, to enquire into the antecedents of a man who is applying for bail to find whether he has a bad record – particularly a record which suggests that he is likely to commit serious offences while on bail. In regard to habituals, it is part of criminological history that a thoughtless bail order has enabled the bailee to exploit the opportunity to inflict further crimes on the members of society. Bail discretion, on the basis of evidence about the criminal record of a Defendant is therefore not an exercise in irrelevance.

Categories: Judicial Dictionary