UAPA Trials cannot be held indefinitely - Supreme Court

Tags: National News

Hearing a petition of an undertrial arrested under UAPA(Unlawful Activities Prevention Act), the Supreme Court gave a landmark judgment on the right of the undertrials.

  • The Supreme Court said that putting a person accused under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act behind bars for an unduly long time with no progress in the trial or appeal process is a violation of his or her fundamental right and a threat to public confidence in the administration of justice,
  • The Court held that timely delivery of justice is part of human rights.
  • The court held that if a timely trial is not possible and the accused has already suffered a significant period of incarceration, the courts have an obligation to release the accused on bail.
  • It also held that cases investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA)should be tried on a day-to-day basis and have priority over other cases.

The supreme court observed this while hearing an appeal by 74-year-old Ashim who was in jail for over 10 years under UAPA and was awaiting his trial.

Article 21 of the Indian constitution 

Protection of life and personal liberty.—No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

Uttarakhand High court in Lalit Kumar v. Union of India, 2018, observed that access to speedy justice is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) 1967 

It is a preventive detention act aimed at preventing activities that are directed against the integrity and sovereignty of India. It was enacted by the Parliament in 1967.

The act has been amended four times in 1969,2004,2012,2019

Important Points of UAPA Act 1967 

  • With the recent 2019 amendment, the act meets commitments made at the Financial Action Task Force (an intergovernmental organization to combat money laundering and terrorism financing).
  • As per the 2019 amendment, the government is now allowed to designate an individual as a terrorist without trial. The previous versions of the Bill allowed for only groups to be designated as terrorists.
  • The burden of proof of innocence is on the accused.
  • Under the UAPA, this pre-chargesheet time is extended to 180 days.
  • Police normally have 60 to 90 days to investigate a case and submit a chargesheet failing which the accused may obtain default bail.
  • In a ruling passed on 1 February 2021, the Supreme Court of India ruled that bail could be granted to accused if the right to a speedy trial was violated.

National Investigation Agency (NIA)

After the deadly 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, the government decided to setup a specific body to deal with terror-related activities in India, thereby establishing the NIA in 2008.

Key Points regarding NIA-

  • At present NIA is functioning as the Central Counter-Terrorism Law Enforcement Agency in India.
  • Though as per the constitution of India, law and order is a state subject but NIA has the power to investigate specific cases under concurrent jurisdiction framework across any state of India.
  • NIA is prepared to deal with cases involving complex inter-state and international linkages related to terrorist attacks in insurgency or militancy affected areas, areas of left-wing extremism, hinterland terrorist attacks, smuggling of arms and drugs, circulation of fake Indian currency, infiltration from across the borders, hijacking of aircraft and ships and attacks on nuclear installations.
  • The 2019 amendment empowers the NIA to probe terror attacks targeting Indians and Indian interests abroad and also offences like human trafficking; manufacture and sale of prohibited arms; and cyber-terrorism.
  • Trial of NIA Cases are held at special courts as notified by the central government as per NIA Act.
  • Judges are appointed by the Central Government on the recommendation of the Chief Justice of the High Court with jurisdiction in that region.
  • The Supreme Court of India has also been empowered to transfer the cases from one special court to any other special court within or outside the state, in the interest of justice. Based on the prevailing circumstances in any particular state.
  • The NIA Special Courts are empowered with all powers of the court of sessions under code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 for trial of any offense.
  • Special Court in New Delhi has jurisdiction of all NIA investigation cases abroad in accordance with international treaties and domestic laws of other countries.

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