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Prior conviction not needed for preventive detention: apex court


New Delhi : In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court has held that conviction of a person in criminal offences is not a prerequisite for his arrest under preventive detention laws that could see him jailed without trial.

A vacation bench of Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice P.P. Naolekar last week ruled that a person facing trial in more than two criminal offences can be described as a "dangerous person" or "habitual offender" and be arrested under preventive detention laws.

Significantly, the ruling runs contrary to the judicial dictum of innocent-unless-convicted, which politicians have been liberally using to foil attempts to usher in laws on electoral reform aimed at banning people with criminal backgrounds and facing trial from contesting elections.

The bench gave its verdict setting aside a Bombay High Court ruling, which had freed a man, detained by the Nagpur district magistrate for a year Aug 12, 1999, under the Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Slumlords, Bootleggers and Drug Offenders Act.

The Nagpur bench of the high court acquitted the man, Mehmud, two months before his one year detention was to expire. The high court bench had held that "there must be a conviction before it can be said that the detenu habitually commits offences".

Setting aside the high court ruling, the apex court bench held: "Considering the nature of the special jurisdiction and power which the detaining authority exercises (under the preventive detention laws), the high court's conclusion that prior conviction is a prerequisite to detain a person under the preventive detention laws is clearly unsustainable."

The Maharashtra government had challenged the high court ruling in the Supreme Court on the plea that it diluted the government's executive authority to arrest a person under the preventive detention laws.

The state government had sought a review of the high court verdict more in order to seek clarity on the provisions of preventive detention.

While seeking a review of the high court ruling, it did not ask for an order to arrest Mehmud again and make him serve the remaining period of his detention.