The Supreme Court on December 9, 2022 clarified that observations made against JNU student leader Sharjeel Imam in a Delhi High Court order denying bail to activist Umar Khalid will not prejudice his case.
Both Imam and Khalid are accused in the 2020 Delhi riots conspiracy case. They have been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
“Any observations made in respect to the role of the petitioner (Imam) in the order would not prejudice him in any manner whatsoever,” a Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and A.S. Oka said.
Appearing for Imam, senior advocate Siddharth Dave said the observations made by the High Court against his client in the bail order concerning Khalid on October 18 were damaging.
Justice Kaul said that there was already a rider in the High Court order that the observations in its bail order would not influence the merits of the case.
The court said such general observations tend to creep in when lawyers argue bail applications in points of merit like they were fighting an appeal against a conviction.
“You argue bail applications like appeals… Speaking for myself, I feel it a complete wastage of time, whether it is this court or any court, to deal with bail applications which go on for pages and pages as if you are arguing a conviction… There should not be more than 10 minutes of arguments,” Justice Kaul observed orally.
Mr. Dave replies that lawyers seeking bail under the stringent conditions of Section 43D of the UAPA were forced to argue bail on the merits of the case.
“Legislature has put such an embargo on us that we have no choice but argue on everything from case diary to the alleged role of the accused,” Mr. Dave responded to the judge’s comments.
The Bench agreed that Mr. Dave had made a point.
Section 43D(5) of the UAPA puts the onus on the accused person seeking bail to prove that the accusation against him are not “ prima facie true”.
In October, the Delhi High Court had observed in its order that Khalid was constantly in touch with Imam, who was arguably ‘at the head of the conspiracy’.
The High Court had also referred to Imam as the main conspirator.