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Arrest and After

OCTOBER 18, 2023

By Vijay Kumar

ARTICLE 22(1) of the Constitution states:

22. Protection against arrest and detention in certain cases. - (1) No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed , as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest nor shall he be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice.

And this is a fundamental right.

Section 19(1) of the PREVENTION OF MONEY-LAUNDERING ACT, 2002 ( Act of 2002) states:

19. Power to arrest. - (1) If the Director, Deputy Director, Assistant Director or any other officer authorised in this behalf by the Central Government by general or special order, has on the basis of material in his possession, reason to believe (the reason for such belief to be recorded in writing) that any person has been guilty of an offence punishable under this Act, he may arrest such person and shall, as soon as may be, inform him of the grounds for such arrest.

How does the officer inform the arrested person? In writing or orally?

In a famous judgement last year, Vijay Madanlal Choudhary and others vs Union of India - 2022-TIOL-60-SC-PMLA-LB, the Supreme Court observed,

So long as the person has been informed about grounds of his arrest that is sufficient compliance of mandate of Article 22(1) of the Constitution.

But how to inform?

Section 19 of the PMLA does not specify in clear terms as to how the arrested person is to be ‘informed' of the grounds of arrest and this aspect has not been dealt with or delineated in Vijay Madanlal Choudhary. Surprisingly, no consistent and uniform practice seems to be followed by the Enforcement Directorate in this regard, as written copies of the grounds of arrest are furnished to arrested persons in certain parts of the country but in other areas, that practice is not followed and the grounds of arrest are either read out to them or allowed to be read by them.

This issue was decided in a very recent case in the Supreme Court in Pankaj Bansal vs Union of India - Criminal Appeal Nos 3051-3052 of 2023 on 3 rd October 2023 [2023-TIOLCORP-06-SC-PMLA], wherein the Court observed,

we may note that Article 22(1) of the Constitution provides, inter alia, that no person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest. This being the fundamental right guaranteed to the arrested person, the mode of conveying information of the grounds of arrest must necessarily be meaningful so as to serve the intended purpose.

It may be noted that Section 45 of the Act of 2002 enables the person arrested under Section 19 thereof to seek release on bail but it postulates that unless the twin conditions prescribed thereunder are satisfied, such a person would not be entitled to grant of bail. The twin conditions set out in the provision are that,

1. firstly, the Court must be satisfied, after giving an opportunity to the public prosecutor to oppose the application for release, that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the arrested person is not guilty of the offence and,

2. secondly, that he is not likely to commit any offence while on bail.

To meet this requirement, it would be essential for the arrested person to be aware of the grounds on which the authorized officer arrested him/her under Section 19 and the basis for the officer's ‘reason to believe' that he/she is guilty of an offence punishable under the Act of 2002. It is only if the arrested person has knowledge of these facts that he/she would be in a position to plead and prove before the Special Court that there are grounds to believe that he/she is not guilty of such offence, so as to avail the relief of bail. Therefore, communication of the grounds of arrest, as mandated by Article 22(1) of the Constitution and Section 19 of the Act of 2002, is meant to serve this higher purpose and must be given due importance.

The Supreme Court observed that there is no valid reason as to why a copy of such written grounds of arrest should not be furnished to the arrested person as a matter of course and without exception. There are two primary reasons as to why this would be the advisable course of action to be followed as a matter of principle.

1. Firstly, in the event such grounds of arrest are orally read out to the arrested person or read by such person with nothing further and this fact is disputed in a given case, it may boil down to the word of the arrested person against the word of the authorized officer as to whether or not there is due and proper compliance in this regard. Non-compliance in this regard would entail release of the arrested person straightaway. Such a precarious situation is easily avoided and the consequence thereof can be obviated very simply by furnishing the written grounds of arrest, as recorded by the authorized officer in terms of Section 19(1) of the Act of 2002, to the arrested person under due acknowledgment, instead of leaving it to the debatable ipse dixit of the authorized officer.

2. The second reason as to why this would be the proper course to adopt is the constitutional objective underlying such information being given to the arrested person. Conveyance of this information is not only to apprise the arrested person of why he/she is being arrested but also to enable suchperson to seek legal counsel and, thereafter, present a case before the Court under Section 45 to seek release on bail, if he/she so chooses. More so, as a person who has just been arrested would not be in a calm and collected frame of mind and may be utterly incapable of remembering the contents of the grounds of arrest read by or read out to him/her. The very purpose of this constitutional and statutory protection would be rendered nugatory by permitting the authorities concerned to merely read out or permit reading of the grounds of arrest, irrespective of their length and detail, and claim due compliance with the constitutional requirement under Article 22(1) and the statutory mandate under Section 19(1) of the Act of 2002.

The Supreme Court also noted that the grounds of arrest recorded by the authorized officer, in terms of Section 19(1) of the Act of 2002, would be personal to the person who is arrested and there should, ordinarily, be no risk of sensitive material being divulged there from, compromising the sanctity and integrity of the investigation.

The Supreme Court noted that in the case on hand, the admitted position is that the ED's Investigating Officer merely read out or permitted reading of the grounds of arrest of the appellants and left it at that, which is also disputed by the appellants. As this form of communication is not found to be adequate to fulfil compliance with the mandate of Article 22(1) of the Constitution and Section 19(1) of the Act of 2002, the Court had no hesitation in holding that the arrest was not in keeping with the provisions of Section 19(1) of the Act of 2002.

And the Supreme Court held:

to give true meaning and purpose to the constitutional and the statutory mandate of Section 19(1) of the Act of 2002 of informing the arrested person of the grounds of arrest, we hold that it would be necessary, henceforth, that a copy of such written grounds of arrest is furnished to the arrested person as a matter of course and without exception.

The Court also made some noteworthy observations:

- Being a premier investigating agency, charged with the onerous responsibility of curbing the debilitating economic offence of money laundering in our country, every action of the ED in the course of such exercise is expected to be transparent, above board and conforming to pristine standards of fair play in action.

- The ED, mantled with far-reaching powers under the stringent Act of 2002, is not expected to be vindictive in its conduct and must be seen to be acting with utmost probity and with the highest degree of dispassion and fairness. In the case on hand, the facts demonstrate that the ED failed to discharge its functions and exercise its powers as per these parameters.

- the failure of the appellants to respond to the questions put to them by the ED would not be sufficient in itself for the Investigating Officer to opine that they were liable to be arrested under Section 19, as that provision specifically requires him to find reason to believe that they were guilty of an offence under the Act of 2002.

- Mere non-cooperation of a witness in response to the summons issued under Section 50 of the Act of 2002 would not be enough to render him/her liable to be arrested under Section 19.

- In any event, it is not open to the ED to expect an admission of guilt from the person summoned for interrogation and assert that anything short of such admission would be an ‘evasive reply'.

- custodial interrogation is not for the purpose of ‘confession' as the right against self-incrimination is provided by Article 20(3) of the Constitution. Merely because an accused did not confess, it cannot be said that he was not co-operating with the investigation.

Arrest under GST :

Section 69(2) of the CGST Act states:

Where a person is arrested under sub-section (1) for an offence specified under sub- section (5) of section 132, the officer authorised to arrest the person shall inform such person of the grounds of arrest and produce him before a Magistrate within twenty-four hours .

In the case mentioned above, the Supreme Court has held that it would be necessary, henceforth, that a copy of such written grounds of arrest is furnished to the arrested person as a matter of course and without exception.

Does this apply to GST? As it is a constitutional requirement, it should perhaps apply to arrest under any Act.

Until Next week