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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • According to the Madras High Court Bench, neither the police nor the courts have the right to seize the passports of suspects in criminal proceedings because the ability to do so is granted solely to Regional Passport Officers under the Passports Act 1967.
  • Justice M. Venugopal made the above observations.

BACKGROUND

  • Following an arrest order issued against him by a lower court in a criminal case, the petitioner Kalaiarasan was arrested at the Chennai airport when he returned to the nation from his workplace in Singapore.
  • The petitioner, however, was exonerated of the charges after the trial. Despite this, the court declined to release his passport, citing the pending of another case against him under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, which led to the current modification.

COURT’S OBSERVATION

  • The judge stated that while police officers can confiscate passports using powers granted to them under Section 102(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, they cannot impound them without first sending the matter to the RPOs responsible for taking proper action under the Passport Act.
  • He went on to say that after seizing passports, the police's only option was to write to the passport officials and ask for their forgiveness.
  • As impounding passports entailed civil implications, it was up to the RPOs to make a judgement after giving the accused an opportunity to be heard.
  • The judge noted the distinction between the terms 'seizure' and 'impound,' recalling that the Supreme Court had declared in a case decided in 2008 that 'seizure' meant taking a document into custody for a limited period of time, whereas impounding meant keeping it for days on end.
  • As the passport had not been impounded under the Passport Act, the judge ordered the lower court to return it immediately.

Do you think that authorities other than the passport authorities should have the power to impound passports? Let us know your views on the issue in the comment section below!

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