Offences can be classified in three ways: (i) bailable or non-bailable; (ii) cognizable or non-cognizable; and (iii) compoundable or non- compoundable. (All these are discussed at the appropriate places.)
The word bail means release of a person from legal custody. Thus, when a person is granted bail, he is released from restraint. It may be noted that in the case of a bailable offence, bail can be claimed as a matter of right [S. 436(1)]. As soon as the accused is prepared to give bail, he is bound to be released on such terms as to bail as may appear reasonable to the Police Officer or the Court, as the case may be. Moreover, the Officer or the Court can even discharge the accused on executing a bond (as provided for in S. 436), instead of taking bail from him.
The First Schedule to the Criminal Procedure Code gives a list of bailable offences, as for instance, rioting, being a member of an unlawful assembly, bribery, committing affray, giving false evidence, and so on. Some other offences are classified as bailable by other laws. All the remaining offences would thus be non-bailable. The cluster of bailable offences can thus be conceived as an island surrounded by an ocean of non-bailable offences. The former can be analysed, but not the latter. The former are fixed and certain, the latter form the residue.
The Criminal Procedure Code (Cr. P.C.) does not lay down any criterion on which it bases the classification of bailable and non-bailable offences. However, this classification may be explained on the basis that bailable offences are, generally speaking, less grave and less serious than those which are non-bailable.
The yardstick followed for classifying the offences under the Indian Penal Code into the two categories is as follows: If an offence is punishable with imprisonment for less than 3 years or with fine only, it is bailable. On the other hand, a non-bailable offence is one which is punishable with a death penalty or life imprisonment, or imprisonment for 3 years or more.