In a significant ruling on January 24, the Supreme Court of India declared that the statutory right to default bail cannot be claimed by an accused once the charge-sheet is filed against them. The decision came during an appeal filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against the Delhi High Court’s judgment, which upheld the release of Kapil and Dheeraj Wadhawan on default bail in a multi-crore siphoning off and misappropriation case involving funds received as a loan from a consortium of banks led by Union Bank of India.

The Bench of Justices Bela Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal set aside the High Court and Trial Court’s findings, emphasizing that the right to default bail ceases once a charge-sheet is filed, even if it may not contain all the details of the offense. The Court underlined that the completeness of the charge-sheet, with all necessary documents and witness statements, is not a prerequisite for its validity.

According to the Court, the proviso in Section 167(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.), which grants the right to default bail if a charge-sheet is not filed within the prescribed time, is applicable only when no chargesheet is filed, and the investigation is pending. Once a charge-sheet is submitted, the right to default bail no longer exists.

The judgment countered arguments by the accused’s legal representatives, Mukul Rohatgi and Amit Desai, who contended that the right to be released on default bail could be exercised if the charge-sheet submitted was incomplete. The Court rejected this claim, stating that the right to default bail only arises when a charge-sheet is not filed within the stipulated timeframe or when an investigation is pending against the accused.

Justice Trivedi, in authoring the judgment, highlighted, “The pendency of further investigation or the production of additional documents does not vitiate the chargesheet, nor does it entitle the accused to claim default bail on the grounds of incompleteness or non-compliance with Section 173(2) of Cr.P.C.”

This ruling aligns with a previous judgment in April 2023, Ritu Chhabaria v. Union of India, where the Supreme Court held that an investigating officer cannot file an incomplete chargesheet to circumvent the right to default bail. However, a subsequent directive by a larger bench, led by the Chief Justice of India, cautioned Trial Courts against granting default bail based on the Ritu Chhabaria judgment.

The case, titled “Central Bureau of Investigation versus Kapil Wadhawan & Anr.,” is now cited as 2024 LiveLaw (SC) 58. The Supreme Court’s decision, which clarified the conditions under which default bail can be claimed, has far-reaching implications for criminal proceedings, particularly regarding the timing of filing charge-sheets and the exercise of statutory rights by the accused.

This ruling underscores the Court’s emphasis on the legal principle that the court takes cognizance of the offense and not the offender. It reinforces the idea that the completeness of the charge-sheet, while important, does not invalidate it, and once the court takes cognizance, the right to default bail is extinguished, irrespective of ongoing investigations or the status of other co-accused.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s decision in this case provides clarity on the scope of the right to default bail, striking a balance between protecting the accused’s rights and maintaining the integrity of criminal proceedings. This ruling contributes to the evolving jurisprudence surrounding the interpretation and application of statutory provisions in criminal law, shaping the legal landscape for future cases involving default bail.

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