SC Keeps the Question of Law Open and Refuses to Interfere with Madras HC's direction to Conduct Trial Proceedings within the Jail Premises

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On February 07, 2024, the Supreme Court (SC) of India refused to entertain a plea against the Madras High Court’s direction to conduct trial proceedings within the jail/prison premises. The matter was mentioned before a two-judge bench comprising Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice Dipankar Datta. The case was initiated from an appeal filed by one Sutherson challenging the rejection by a Thoothukudi special court concerning his bail plea. He was arrested for an Advocate’s murder over suspected business rivalry and property disputes. The Madras HC denied bail to the accused and directed the trial proceedings to be conducted in prison, considering the witness safety and the potential for witness intimidation. The HC ordered “The direction to conduct the trial in jail is not a new one and the Hon’ble Supreme Court and also various High Courts justify the trial in jail premises upon considering the various factors like life threat to the accused, witnesses, and the hostile atmosphere. As per Section 327 Cr.P.C, it is permissible to conduct the trial in the jail premises, and the same was considered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court and various High Courts on different occasions.” The February 07, 2024, order of the SC reads, “In view of the peculiar facts of the present case, we are not inclined to interfere with the impugned judgment. Hence, the special leave petition is dismissed. The question(s) of law is left open.”

During the SC proceedings, Senior Advocate S Nagamuthu who appeared for Sutherson contended that the Madras HC exceeded the scope of the court’s bail jurisdiction under Section 439 of CrPC. While responding to this, Justice Khanna stated that “The Code of Criminal Procedure and the Code of Civil Procedure are not complete codes. So as long as the procedure is fair, it may be adopted. This part of the order was under Section 482 of CrPC, and is specific to this case.” It added, “This order has been passed for the convenience of the witnesses and the police.” While trying to persuade the bench, Advocate Nagamuthu said “I am concerned with the legal system. If every judge keeps passing such orders…” The SC bench reposted, “The legal system was compromised when a witness was murdered. Sorry.” It further revealed that it was the first time such an order had come across and for justified reasons. After hearing the arguments, the bench upheld the HC’s order and stated “There was a murder of one brother. The witness, i.e., the other brother also has been murdered. There have been complaints and they wanted orders for police protection. Accordingly, witness protection is granted. When there is a murder of this nature, there is a great concern and sometimes courts have to take strong action to ensure that the trial is conducted expeditiously. There are threats still and we cannot close our eyes to that.” The Supreme Court further pronounced the order, “In view of the peculiar facts of the present case, we are not inclined to interfere with the impugned judgment, and the special leave petition is dismissed.” At the end of the hearing, the Advocate appearing for Sutherson exclaimed, “I am concerned because each judge has begun passing such orders.” Justice Khanna disagreed and said “If it happens routinely, we will interfere. That’s why we said that the question of law will remain open.”