The language of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act suggests that under the law, jail is the rule and bail is the exception, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday.

A bench of Justices MM Sundresh and Aravind Kumar made the observation while denying bail to Gurwinder Singh, a man charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly promoting Sikh separatism.

The Supreme Court noted that the conventional idea in ordinary penal offences is that bail is the rule and jail is the exception. However, this principle does not find a place when it comes to bail applications under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, it observed.

“The ‘exercise’ of the general power to grant bail under the [UAPA] is severely restrictive in scope,” the court noted. “The form of the words used in proviso to Section 43D (5) – ‘shall not be released’ in contrast with the form of the words as found in Section 437(1) CrPC – ‘may be released’ – suggests the intention of the Legislature to make bail, the exception and jail, the rule.”

The bench said that under the UAPA, bail must be rejected as a rule if the court concludes that there are grounds to believe the allegations against the accused person on a preliminary reading. “It is only if the test for rejection of bail is not satisfied – that the Courts would proceed to decide the bail application in accordance with the ‘tripod test’ [flight risk, influencing witnesses, tampering with evidence],” the court said.

The bench said that as the alleged offences in Singh’s case were grave, a mere delay in the trial could not constitute grounds for bail. It said that if the accused man were to be granted bail, there was every likelihood of him influencing key witnesses, which would hamper the process of justice.