In a country known for its elephantine justice system, Salman Khan's nearly-13-year-old hit-and-run trial has moved remarkably quickly in the past week. On Wednesday, he was sentenced to a five-year jail term. Hours later, he was granted interim bail for two days. Then, on Friday, amidst high drama at the Bombay High Court, his sentence was suspended as the judge directed him to surrender before the trial court and furnish a fresh bail bond of Rs 30,000.
"How did we end up here?" you might wonder, much like Michael Keaton in 'Birdman'. Chennai-based disability rights activist and lawyer Amba Salelkar (who tweets under the handle @MumbaiCentral) dissected the legalese in a piece for Mid-Day and on Twitter. Previously, Salelkar was based in Mumbai and practiced in the Sessions court for a period of seven years.
How and why did Salman get interim bail so quickly?
A copy of the trial court judgment, as per the Code of Criminal Procedure, is to be given to the accused immediately and free of charge, writes Salelkar. Failure to do so "creates a ground for bail".
Usually, the assumption is that a finding of guilt "comes as a surprise for the accused", who then requires time to frame reasons to reduce their sentence. It is a legal 'safeguard' that exists to ensure that some recourse exists in case a chargesheet isn't filed in time by the police.
Khan's order, however, was only to be ready by Friday (the sentencing was on Wednesday)."His legal team had the resources to ensure that the appeal and accompanying bail application were filed probably minutes after the sentence was pronounced, relying on hasty notes taken on the judgment dictated in the open court, or perhaps with boilerplate grounds, which Khan would “crave leave to add to, rescind from, or alter” in his petition," she writes.
What does 'suspension of sentence' even mean? Has Salman Khan been declared innocent?
No, according to Salelkar on Twitter.
.@SupriyaUnniNair just means that sentence is suspended pending hearing of appeal. It doesn't mean that the Court has declared him innocent.— Amba (@MumbaiCentral) May 8, 2015
.@SupriyaUnniNair it's only the *sentence* that's been suspended - not the *conviction*.— Amba (@MumbaiCentral) May 8, 2015
Has Salman used his money and influence to corrupt the judiciary?
Given that nearly nothing happened in this case for nearly 13 years, it does indeed seem to the layperson that the legal machinery has been manipulated to make sure Khan stays out of jail. Not so, says Salelkar. With a "team of dedicated lawyers, efficient filing clerks, and perhaps India’s best-known senior counsel [Harish Salve] — who walked into a court at
2 pm and asked for the production of the case papers in the post-lunch session for consideration," Khan has simply used his resources to ensure that procedures were followed accurately and with as little wastage of time as possible.
In this case also same procedure followed, apparently. There's no extraordinary relief granted here. The speed etc is of course different.— Amba (@MumbaiCentral) May 8, 2015
But how and why is this "speed" different for him? How did he get a bail hearing so soon?
The Bombay High Court closes for summer vacation on Saturday and reopens only on Monday, June 8. In such a situation, says Salelkar, it is entirely possible for the Court to use its discretion and grant him a bail hearing at the earliest.
Bring heard 'out of turn' may eat up Courts time to consider other matters of languishing undertrials, but it is Court discretion. It exists— Amba (@MumbaiCentral) May 8, 2015
And considering the Court is on vacation from this weekend, Judges may be more inclined to accept cases of urgency, from my experience.— Amba (@MumbaiCentral) May 8, 2015
So yes it happened quickly but admitting appeals, suspending sentences and granting bail in these cases can happen in less than 10 minutes.— Amba (@MumbaiCentral) May 8, 2015
Also, since Khan has technically been on bail for the entire duration of this trial thus far and only just gotten a conviction, this would have been his first appeal. In such a case, argues Salelkar, it is fathomable for the Court to hear the star's petition on its last working day.
.@TheCommonerSays I'd argue: Courts on vacation from Monday, first appeal in a 5 years RI conviction under 304.— Amba (@MumbaiCentral) May 8, 2015
What happens now, then?
The star's next hearing, according to reports, is on June 15. According to Salelkar, he's on bail till the appeal is disposed of. "Since he isn't in custody, his case will be of lower priority to the judges than those who are [in custody]," she said, in a phone conversation. "Given the backlog of cases, it takes two years for appeals filed by those even in custody to reach their verdicts. So, while he is still guilty, there is quite some time to go before his appeal is disposed of. I don't see him going to jail for another 3 to 5 years at least."