The Court observed that many poor and illiterate women who commit cognizable offenses may also have to care for children who will suffer if their mother is imprisoned.
When a woman’s freedom is at stake, courts ought to be more understanding and considerate, the Punjab and Haryana High Court recently noted.
Judge Harpreet Singh Brar noted that a person’s reputation would suffer from needless incarceration, particularly a woman’s.
The Court further observed that women who are accused of crimes frequently come from low-income or illiterate homes and may have childcare responsibilities.
When a case involving the restriction of a woman’s freedom comes up, courts must show greater empathy and consideration for women because their families also suffer. Many impoverished and illiterate women commit crimes that are punishable by law. The children frequently have no choice but to live in prisons with their mothers, and they frequently have children to care for,” the Court stated.
The illiterate woman had been declared a proclaimed offender following the filing of a check dishonour case under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act (NI Act). The court noted this while granting anticipatory bail to her.
The agreement to sell specific property registered in the petitioner’s (the woman’s) name served as the basis for the lawsuit.
The husband had previously been asked to return the earnest money that the prospective buyer had provided after failing to carry out the agreement. To that end, he sent out a check. But when it bounced, a case of cheque dishonour was filed against the petitioner and her spouse.
The petitioner in this case was eventually labeled a proclaimed offender after she failed to show up for trial court proceedings. She then appeared before the trial court with a plea for pre-arrest bail, which was denied. She then requested relief from the High Court.
The woman’s attorney claimed that the woman was illiterate and that her husband had given the check, and that she had never received a summons to appear in court.
Furthermore, it was argued that the judicial magistrate did not execute an arrest warrant when declaring her a proclaimed offender.
The argument that due process was not appropriately followed before the petitioner was labeled a proclaimed offender was accepted by the High Court.
The Court recognized that proclaimed offenders would typically not be granted anticipatory bail. However, the judge believed that there was no obstacle to granting the petitioner anticipatory bail because due process had not been followed in this particular case.
Crucially, the Court also drew upon the ruling of the Supreme Court in Satender Kumar Antil v. Central Bureau of Investigation (2022), in which the highest court noted that, considering the difficult circumstances faced by women incarcerated, courts ought to exercise discretion in cases involving women.
The woman’s plea for pre-arrest bail was granted by the court, especially since there were indications that she never received the summons prior to being labeled a proclaimed offender.
According to Section 138 of the NI Act, the offense carries a two-year maximum sentence of imprisonment and is subject to bail. Because the petitioner in this case is an illiterate woman, the court stated that placing her in pre-trial detention would be excessively harsh and out of proportion to the punishment allotted for the offense in question.
The Court granted her anticipatory bail as a result.
[Baby v State]