Magistrate’s Jurisdiction To Grant Bail In Case Of Offences Which Are Exclusively Triable By Sessions Court

Section 437 CrPC provides that  when any person accused of, or suspected of, the commission of any non-bailable offence is arrested or detained without warrant by an officer in charge of a police station or appears or is brought before a Court other than the High Court or Court of session, he may be released on bail. But as per sub-clause (i) such person shall not be so released if there appear reasonable grounds for believing that he has been guilty of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life.

In Prahlad Singh Bhati v. N. C. T., Delhi AIR 2001 SC 1444 , the Supreme Court observed thus: “Even though there is no legal bar for a Magistrate to consider an application for grant of bail to a person who is arrested for an offence exclusively triable by a Court of Session yet it would be proper and appropriate that in such a case the Magistrate directs the accused person to approach the Court of Session for the purposes of getting the relief of bail. Even in a case where any Magistrate opts to make an adventure of exercising the powers under S. 437 of the Code in respect of a  person who is, suspected of the commission of such an offence, arrested and detained in that connection, such Magistrate has to specifically negativate the existence of reasonable ground for believing that such accused is guilty of an offence punishable with the sentence of death or imprisonment for life. In a case, where the Magistrate has no occasion and in fact does not find, that there were no reasonable grounds to believe that the accused had not committed the offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life, he shall be deemed to be having no jurisdiction to enlarge the accused on bail.”

There is a Full Bench decision of the Gauhati High Court in In Re : State of Assam in which it was held that a Magistrate has the jurisdiction to consider the prayer for bail of a person accused of commission of a non bailable offence punishable with death or life imprisonment. “However, in order to release an accused on bail, the Magistrate is required to record specific finding that there is no reasonable ground for believing that the accused is guilty of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life. In view of the embargo provided under sub-clause (i) and sub-clause (ii), the Magistrate entertaining a bail application under S.437 shall have a very limited scope to consider bail.”

“Offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life”

For example, the offences under Sections 467 and 409 IPC, carry punishment which may be life imprisonment. Can a Magistrate grant bail with respect to these offences?. It must be noted that as per Part I of Schedule annexed to Cr.P.C., both these offences are triable by a Magistrate of First Class. “If the Magistrate is empowered to try the case and pass judgment and order of conviction or acquittal, it is difficult to understand why he cannot pass order granting bail, which is interlocutory in nature, in such cases. In fact, the restriction under Section 437(1) Cr.P.C. is in respect of those offences which are punishable with alternative sentence of death or life imprisonment. If the offence is punishable with life imprisonment or any other lesser sentence and is triable by Magistrate, it cannot be said that Magistrate does not have jurisdiction to consider the bail application.”, the Bombay High Court held in Ambarish Rangshhi Patnigere v. State of Maharashtra.

In Ambarish, it was further observed that that the restriction under Section 437(1) (i) is applicable only to those cases which are punishable with death sentence or life imprisonment as alternative sentence. It noticed that in Prahlad Sigh Bhati (supra), will be applicable to many cases, wherein the sentence, which may be awarded, is not even life imprisonment, but the offence is exclusively triable by court of Sessions for example offences punishable under Sections 306, 308, 314, 315, 316, 399, 400 and 450.

These observations were approvingly quoted by the Supreme Court last year in Satender Kumar Antil vs CBI (2022)10 SCC 51 and held that the “the jurisdictional Magistrate who otherwise has the jurisdiction to try a criminal case which provides for a maximum punishment of either life or death sentence, has got ample jurisdiction to consider the release on bail”.

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