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BI Director Doesn’t Have Better Legal Acumen Than ASG; Reiterates Proposal To Empower ASG To Give Opinion On Filing Appeals To Curb Delay: Calcutta High Court

The Calcutta High Court on 23rd June, reiterated its recommendation of amending the Crime Manual, 2022 of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to empower the Additional Solicitor General of the High Court to give his opinion on filing appeals challenging court orders and on the basis of such an opinion, the zonal office of the CBI may be permitted to file an appeal within the prescribed period of limitation.

A single judge bench of Honourable Justice Bibek Chaudhuri in the case of Central Bureau of investigation vs Sanjib Halder (IA No. CRAN 1 of 2022) noted that despite prior directions of the Supreme Court the central agency always files appeals after the expiry of the period of limitation and that an inordinate delay is caused for filing appeals especially against orders of acquittal passed by Trial Courts.

Opining that the CBI should trust the expert opinion of the Additional Solicitor General more than the Director of CBI as the former has a better legal acumen, the Court underscored,

“In case of the High Court, the learned Additional Solicitor General is the authorized legal representative of the Central Government. His opinion may be obtained by the CBI to come to a decision as to whether an appeal should be preferred against a judgment and order of acquittal or for enhancement of sentence by the CBI or not. This Court fails to understand why the case record will travel to Delhi to obtain formal permission of the Director of CBI for filing an appeal before this Court when the Director of CBI is after all a senior police officer. This Court obviously trusts and hopes that the Central Government in its executive branch will also trust the expert opinion of the learned Additional Solicitor General more than the Director of CBI who may have varied experience in investigation but he does not have better legal acumen than the Additional Solicitor General.”

Facts of the case:

The Court was adjudicating upon an application for condonation of delay under Section 5 of the Limitation Act filed by the CBI for filing an appeal against an order of acquittal in a case involving the the Prevention of Corruption Act.

It was contended on behalf of the CBI that the CBI and its various departments were always keen to file an appeal within the period of limitation but there was a considerable amount of delay due to the procedural latches that are to be carried out by the CBI for filing an appeal. Such latches were not intentional and accordingly the delay may be condoned.

On the other hand, the opposing counsel argued that the CBI has failed to explain 959 days delay in filing the application for special leave to appeal and further placed reliance on the Calcutta High Court judgment in Central Bureau of Investigation v. Biman Kumar Saha & Anr wherein it had been underscored that the Government Agency is not a privileged litigant.

Pursuant to the rival submissions, the Court noted that the Clause 21.9 of CBI (Crime Manual, 2020) makes a detailed provision to avoid delay and ensure filing of appeals/revisions in the Appellate Court within the limitation period.

Court’s Findings:

The Court however opined that despite such a provision, the officers of CBI sitting in higher echelon of the department have failed to follow the guideline and thus delay was caused in preferring the appeal.

“It is found that the conduct of the CBI Officials in the local office was prompt. On the next date of the delivery of the judgment CBI prayed for certified copy of the order. Then the opinion of the local office was obtained and it was sent to Delhi. Delay was caused by Delhi Office. I am in agreement with Mr. Mitra that if the CBI was not given an opportunity to test the factual as well as legal aspect involved in the instant appeal, the accused persons in a case of committing fraud of huge sum of money would be scot-free for the negligent and callous approach of the higher officers of the CBI”, the Court observed further.

Justice Chaudhuri proceeded to condone the delay in filing the appeal by referring to the Supreme Court decision in S.P., CBI v. Lalu Prasad alias Lalu Prasad Yadav which he opined is abtly applicable in the instant case.

The Court further noted that in the aforementioned judgment the Supreme Court had held that the CBI was bound by its Manual and in violation of the provision contained in the Manual without sufficient explanation the delay cannot be condoned.

Opining that the central agency always files appeals after the expiry of the period of limitation in contravention of the dictum of the Supreme Court, the Court remarked,

“In spite of such direction by the Hon’ble Apex Court to the CBI, the said agency always files appeals after expiry of the period of limitation and inordinate delay is caused for filing appeals specially against the order of acquittal passed by the trial Court.”

The Court thus proposed an amendment to Crime Manual, 2022 of the CBI by opining, “Therefore, this Court proposes amendment of clause 21.9 of CBI (Crime Manual, 2022) by the CBI in its administrative authority empowering the Additional Solicitor General of the High Court to give his opinion as to whether an appeal should be filed against a judgment and order of acquittal or for enhancement of sentence and on the basis of the opinion given by the learned Additional Solicitor General, the zonal office may be permitted to file Memorandum of Appeal within the period of limitation. This Court sincerely believes that the above arrangement, if incorporated, the CBI will be able to file appeals before the Court within the period of limitation, failing which there may be high chances that the appeals filed by the C.B.I. may be dismissed on the ground of limitation.”

The Court ordered that such a recommendation should be sent to the Additional Solicitor General, High Court, Calcutta with a request to send a copy of the order to the Director, CBI. It was further instructed that a copy of this order is also sent through the Additional Solicitor General, High Court, Calcutta requesting him to send the same to the Secretary, Department of Home, Government of India for consideration.

The Court also sought a response from the CBI and the Central Government within one month from the date of the order.

Judgement Reviewed By Manju Molakalapalli.

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