The Supreme Court of India on Wednesday ruled that anticipatory bail granted to a person “should not invariably” be limited to a fixed period and could continue till the end of the trial, PTI reported. However, the court added that the adjudicating court can limit its period in case of “special or peculiar features”.

A five-judge Constitution bench, headed by Justice Arun Mishra said that anticipatory bail need not normally end when an accused is summoned by the court or charges are framed against him. The court said imposing a time limit on anticipatory bail is not proper as denial of bail amounts to deprivation of the “fundamental right to personal liberty in a free and democratic country”, The Hindu reported.

The bench, which also comprised Justices Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and S Ravindra Bhat, acknowledged that anticipatory bail helps prevent influential people from implicating their rivals in false cases. The court recorded senior advocate Harin Raval’s argument that anticipatory bail is needed more than ever because political rivalry has shown an increasing tendency.

The 133-page judgement included two separate and concurring opinions by Justices MR Shah and S Ravindra Bhat. The three other judges agreed with them. The bench then issued guidelines for courts to grant anticipatory bail.

“The spectre of arbitrary and heavy-handed arrests: too often, to harass and humiliate citizens, and oftentimes, at the interest of powerful individuals, led to the enactment of Section 438 [of the Criminal Procedure Code],” Justice Bhat said. Section 438 of the CrPC relates to the grant of bail to a person apprehending arrest.

The court held that protection against arrest should inure in favour of the accused. It added that restricting the protection would be unfair to the accused. The bench said courts have to consider the nature of the offence, the role of the accused, the likelihood of his influencing the course of investigation or tampering of evidence, including possible intimidation of witnesses while granting anticipatory bail.

The court added that an application for anticipatory bail should be based on concrete facts, not vague allegations. It said that application should also contain bare essential facts relating to the offence, and why the applicant apprehends arrest.

The court held that a plea for anticipatory bail can be filed even before the registration of a first information report. The lower courts need not wait for hearing the version of the prosecution before granting anticipatory bail, depending on the seriousness of the threat, it added.