Covid-19 no reason for not filing chargesheet: HC grants bail to man accused of raping minor

Mumbai: Law enforcement agencies will no longer have the cushion of the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak as an excuse to delay filing a charge sheet after a Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court (HC) granted bail to a person booked by Gondia police station on charges of raping a minor girl.

The accused, who was booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, was granted bail after the police failed to file the charge sheet within the stipulated 90 days.

Justice Vinay Joshi clarified that the period prescribed by the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) for filing a charge sheet cannot be extended because of the nationwide lockdown restrictions, which were enforced from March 25 to contain the Covid-19 outbreak.

“In absence of any provision enabling the court to extend the period, no court can directly or indirectly extend such a period, which would frustrate the valuable right of the accused,” said Justice Joshi.

The accused had moved the HC after his bail plea was rejected by the special POCSO court on May 4.

The accused cited that he was arrested on January 30.

Soon, a First Information Report (FIR) was registered against him and he was produced before a local magistrate for remand.

The stipulated 90 days, prescribed by Section 167(2) of CrPC to file a charge sheet, lapsed on April 30 amid the nationwide lockdown restrictions.

On May 2, he applied for bail in the special POCSO court, which was denied two days later, citing that the timeframe for filing a charge sheet has been extended because of the pandemic.

The prosecutor opposed the bail plea on the ground that the police submitted the charge sheet thrice between March and April, but the special POCSO court didn’t accept it.

The special POCSO court accepted the charge sheet on May 4 and rejected the accused’s bail plea on the ground that the timeframe for filing a charge sheet has been extended due to the prevailing lockdown restrictions.

Justice Joshi, however, said it is imperative to ascertain whether the charge sheet was filed in the first instance in March and the reasons for the inordinate delay and beyond the stipulated timeframe.

The HC granted bail to the accused because he had exercised his indefeasible right on expiry of 90 days to file a charge sheet and as a result, is entitled to the legal relief.

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