Supreme Court Upholds Sessions Court Jurisdiction in UAPA Cases

Supreme Court upholds Sessions Courts' jurisdiction for UAPA cases without state-designated special courts. Overturns High Court's ruling in The State of West Bengal vs. Jayeeta Das.

In a significant legal development, the Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment on Thursday, April 18, clarifying the jurisdictional ambit regarding offences punishable under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. The ruling, delivered by a bench comprising Justices BR Gavai and Sandeep Mehta, underscores the legal intricacies surrounding the designation of special courts by state governments for trying UAPA cases.

"A bare perusal of sub-section (3) of Section 22 of NIA Act would make it clear that until a Special Court is constituted by the State Government under sub-Section (1) of Section 22, in case of registration of any offence punishable under UAPA, the Court of Sessions of the division, in which the offence has been committed, would have the jurisdiction as conferred by the Act on a Special Court and a fortiori, it would have all the powers to follow the procedure provided under Chapter IV of the NIA Act," the bench remarked, emphasizing the delineation of authority.

The judgment, authored by Justice Sandeep Mehta, upheld the proceedings initiated by Sessions Courts under the UAPA when special courts hadn't been designated by the state government. The legal saga began when the initiation of proceedings by a session judge, based on a preliminary investigation report, faced challenge before the High Court. The High Court, in its ruling, quashed the UAPA proceedings, citing exclusive jurisdiction vested in special courts designated under the National Investigation Agency Act, 2008.

However, the state government, dissatisfied with the High Court's decision, appealed to the Supreme Court, leading to a thorough examination of the legal framework. The apex court reiterated the mandate of law outlined in Section 22 of the NIA Act, emphasizing that Sessions Courts possess jurisdiction, akin to that of Special Courts, to try UAPA cases in the absence of state-designated special courts.

"It is not in dispute that the State of West Bengal has so far not exercised the power conferred upon it by Section 22 of the NIA Act for constituting a Special Court for trial of offences set out in the Schedule to the NIA Act and hence, the Sessions Court within whose jurisdiction, the offence took place...had the power and jurisdiction to deal with the case," the court elucidated, shedding light on the legal rationale.

Moreover, the court addressed the issue of remand in UAPA cases, delineating the authority of jurisdictional magistrates. It held that while magistrates could remand accused individuals for a period of 90 days, any extension beyond this period necessitated an express order from the Sessions Court or the Special Court, in accordance with Section 43D(2) of the UAPA.

"In view of the definition of the 'Court' provided under Section 2(1)(d) of UAPA, the jurisdictional Magistrate would also be clothed with the jurisdiction to deal with the remand of the accused albeit for a period of 90 days only...," the court clarified, providing clarity on the procedural aspects.

Consequently, the Supreme Court reversed and set aside the impugned judgment passed by the High Court, bringing closure to the legal dispute.