The Supreme Court on Thursday said that two aspects of its judgement upholding the amendments to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act that gives the Enforcement Directorate unbridled power of summons, raids and arrests need prima facie reconsideration, Live Law reported.
The aspects of not providing the accused persons with Enforcement Case Information Reports, or ECIR, and the reversal of the presumption of innocence idea need to be looked into again, a bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar said. The judges, however, held that the objective of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act is noble.
The court was hearing a petition seeking review of a July 27 verdict by a three-judge bench upholding the core amendments to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Over 200 petitions had been filed against the amendments arguing that they violate personal liberty, procedures of law and the constitutional mandate.
In its July 27 verdict, the court had said that ECIRs in money laundering cases cannot be equated with first information reports in other crimes. The judges held that it was not mandatory for the Enforcement Directorate to provide an ECIR to the accused person, and disclosing the reasons for arrest was enough.
The judges also upheld Section 24 of the Act which states that an accused person has the burden to prove his innocence. This is contrary to established criminal law principles of innocent until proven guilty.
In its order, the court had also held that Section 45 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act was legal and not unreasonable. The provision makes offences under the law cognisable and non-bailable. It also states that when a bail plea is opposed, the court needs to be satisfied that the accused person is not guilty and will not commit any crime after release.
At Thursday’s hearing, the court also issued notice asking the Centre to respond to the review petition, Bar and Bench reported.
Appearing on behalf of the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta opposed the overall reconsideration of the Act. He argued that notice should be issued on the two specific points only.
“This is not a standalone provision and we are part of the larger global structure and Supreme Court held it is in tune with international and constitutional scheme,” Mehta told the court, according to Bar and Bench.
Ramana said that the court was not opposed to the government’s intention to stop money laundering or bringing back black money from overseas tax havens.
“It [money laundering] is a serious thing, we are not doubting the objective of the government,” Ramana said. “But there are prima facie issues. We issue notice. Let writ petitions be heard along with the review.”
On August 3, seventeen Opposition parties had criticised the verdict by the Supreme Court saying it had only reproduced the arguments that the Centre had made in the case to support the “draconian amendments”.
In recent months, the Opposition has alleged that the Narendra Modi-led government has been misusing central agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate to target its political opponents.
They claim that the law was being used arbitrarily, selectively and without any justification by the government against prominent leaders of the Opposition.
Several leaders of Opposition such as Congress’ Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Trinamool Congress’ Abhishek Banerjee and others have been subjected to either summons, searches or cases by the central agencies.