Court of Appeal Grants Bail to Remand Suspect, Citing Prejudice and Delay in Filing Charges

In a recent development, the Court of Appeal has granted bail to an individual who had been in remand for one and a half years. The decision was based on the argument that keeping a suspect in remand without filing charges would cause significant prejudice to the individual and their family. The seriousness of the alleged crime was deemed insufficient grounds to deny bail, and the court emphasized the importance of considering the presumption of innocence.

The Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the resident of Mattakkuliya, Colombo, who had been in remand since January 1, 2022. The individual was arrested by the Police Narcotics Bureau on charges of possessing 116 grams of heroin.

The appeal was filed by the suspect’s wife, and it was heard by Judges Sampath B Abeykoon and P Kumararatnam. With the agreement of Judge Sampath B Abeykoon, Judge P Kumararatnam issued the decision on the 11th of July.

During the case, lawyer Ms. Sandipani Wijesuriya provided evidence on behalf of the suspect’s wife. The wife stated in her petition that her husband worked as a CCTV technician at a major hotel in Colombo and would occasionally perform CCTV repair work on holidays. On one such occasion, the suspect received a call from a woman requesting CCTV repairs at her residence. While en route to the house, the suspect was arrested by police officers from the Anti-Narcotics Bureau. The wife, who was in the early stages of pregnancy then, asserted in the petition that the police officers assaulted her husband in front of her and their child.

The suspect was brought before a magistrate, who denied the police’s request for detention after observing the suspect’s injuries. Instead, the magistrate ordered the suspect’s remand and also instructed the prison to admit the suspect to the Colombo National Hospital.

In her plea to the Court of Appeal, the suspect’s wife argued that no incriminating evidence was found in her husband’s possession and claimed that the heroin mentioned in the reports had been planted by the police. She also highlighted the severe beatings her husband endured while in police custody and emphasized the extensive duration of his remand since January 1, 2022.

However, the police contended that the suspect was arrested while riding a motorcycle and found in possession of 116 grams of heroin. The government lawyer opposing the grant of bail noted that the examiner confirmed the presence of 91.25 grams of pure heroin. The lawyer asserted that no compelling reasons had been provided to warrant bail.

The Court of Appeal, considering all the facts, stressed that the decision to grant bail in exceptional cases should be based on the unique circumstances of each case. The court highlighted the serious deficiency on the part of the prosecution, as they had failed to file an indictment despite receiving the expert report on November 17, 2022.

The Court of Appeal underscored the right to a trial without undue delay by citing various international and regional human rights mechanisms, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. It stated that if a person is held in remand without charges for an extended period, bail should be granted pending indictment to prevent jail overcrowding. The court emphasized that bail should never be used as a form of punishment and stressed the importance of exercising discretion with care and caution, considering the specific circumstances of each case.

After a thorough examination of the facts, the Court of Appeal found it unduly oppressive to keep the suspect in remand custody without filing charges. Consequently, the court ordered the suspect’s release on bail under strict conditions. The bail amount was set at one lakh rupees in cash, with two body bails of 20 lakhs each. The court also stipulated that the suspect and the sureties must maintain their current addresses until the conclusion of the case. Additionally, the court prohibited any direct or indirect interference with the prosecution witnesses, and international travel, and mandated the suspect’s reporting to the Police Narcotics Bureau between 9 am and 1 pm on the last Sunday of every month. Any violation of the bail conditions would result in the cancellation of the bail.

Lawyer Mrs. Sandeepani Wijesuriya represented the suspect, while government lawyer Mrs. Ridma Kuruwita appeared on behalf of the respondents. The petition named the Station Commander of the Police Narcotics Bureau and the Attorney General as respondents in the case.

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