In a recent judgment, the Bombay High Court clarified that the duration of house arrest should be considered as a period of arrest while calculating the total custody time of an accused. The division bench, comprising Justice AS Gadkari and Justice Shyam C Chandak, rendered this verdict while granting bail to Mohammed Farooq Shaikh, entangled in a case under Section 3 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA). Shaikh had been in custody for over 5 years and 8 months, with more than 4 years spent under house arrest.

The pivotal contention revolved around whether the time spent under house arrest should be accounted for in the total period of the accused’s detention. Counsel for the Enforcement Directorate (ED) argued that house arrest should be excluded from the computation of Shaikh’s custody duration. However, the High Court dismissed this argument, asserting that house arrest essentially restrains an individual’s liberty, constituting an arrest in the eyes of the law.

Shaikh had filed a writ petition seeking to quash the case against him, contending that the offense under Section 3 of PMLA carries a maximum sentence of 7 years, and he had already been in custody for nearly 6 years. The court further emphasized that an extended period of custody without charges being framed constitutes a violation of an accused person’s right to a speedy trial.

Senior Advocate Rajiv Chavan, along with advocates PravinBhoi and Shweta R Rathod i/by Elixir Legal Services, represented Shaikh. The High Court’s decision bears significance in interpreting the scope of house arrest as part of an accused’s total custody time and reaffirms the right to personal liberty even during periods of house arrest. The next segments will elaborate on the court’s reasoning and key aspects of the case.

The Bombay High Court’s verdict rested on the fundamental understanding that house arrest constitutes a form of arrest, thereby restricting an individual’s freedom, akin to traditional custodial arrest. The court rejected the Enforcement Directorate’s contention that house arrest should not be factored into the total period of custody for the accused.

Justice AS Gadkari and Justice Shyam C Chandak emphasized that the concept of ‘arrest’ encompasses any restraint on an individual’s liberty, regardless of the physical location, as long as it’s imposed by the operation of law. In the case of Mohammed Farooq Shaikh, the court concluded that the interim relief provided via house arrest ought to be regarded as a curtailment of his liberty, akin to physical confinement, as it was legally enforced.

Citing concerns over the accused’s prolonged detention without the framing of charges, the court highlighted the constitutional right to a speedy trial and the significance of promptly concluding legal proceedings. The judgment echoed previous Supreme Court decisions, particularly the ruling in Union of India v. KA Najeeb (2021), emphasizing that statutory restrictions cannot negate the constitutional court’s authority to grant bail based on violations of fundamental rights.

The High Court’s ruling underscores the importance of ensuring the accused’s right to personal liberty, even during periods of house arrest, and establishes a precedent for considering such periods as part of the total custody time. The court’s reasoning bolsters the protection of an individual’s rights and may have far-reaching implications in similar cases involving house arrest and an accused person’s detention period.

*High Court Orders Bail Considering Prolonged Custody*

In light of Mohammed Farooq Shaikh’s extended custody period and the improbability of concluding the trial within a reasonable time, the Bombay High Court ordered his release on bail during the pendency of the petition. The court took note that Shaikh had already spent more than 5 years and 8 months in custody without charges being framed.

The court, considering the offense under Section 3 of PMLA carrying a maximum sentence of 7 years, observed that Shaikh had already undergone nearly ¾ of the maximum sentence duration. This, coupled with the apparent delays in the trial proceedings, led the court to grant bail to Shaikh.

Senior Advocate Rajiv Chavan, representing Shaikh, argued that the prolonged custody without trial and the time spent under house arrest warranted relief for his client. While granting bail, the High Court emphasized the accused’s constitutional right to a speedy trial and the need for expeditious judicial processes.

Advocates Hiten Venegavkar and Aayush Kedia, representing the Enforcement Directorate, contested the inclusion of the house arrest period in the computation of Shaikh’s custody, which the court dismissed in light of the precedents and the interpretation of ‘arrest’ as encompassing any restraint on an individual’s liberty.

The verdict holds significance as it not only interprets the legal significance of house arrest but also underscores the paramount importance of safeguarding an individual’s right to personal liberty. The decision sets a crucial precedent for future cases involving house arrest and the calculation of an accused person’s custody duration.

This ruling could potentially impact similar cases where accused individuals have spent considerable time in house arrest or custody without charges being framed. It emphasizes the necessity of timely trials and the protection of fundamental rights, serving as a guide for the judiciary in balancing legal proceedings with an individual’s rights.

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