Release undertrial prisoners in jail for half their likely term: SC

undertrial prisonersThe Supreme Court Friday said those undertrial prisoners, who have already spent in jail half the period of the sentence they would have got if convicted for the offences they have been charged with, would now be released.

A bench of Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman said judicial officers of districts will visit the jails under their jurisdiction once a week to look into such cases and pass appropriate orders to free such prisoners.

It said the judicial officers shall identify such prisoners who have completed “half of the maximum period of imprisonment provided for the said offence” and after complying with the procedure under section 436-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, pass an appropriate order in jail itself for release of such prisoners, who fulfil the requirement, for their release immediately.

Passing the order, Chief Justice Lodha said: “Having given our thoughtful consideration to the legislative policy engrafted in section 436A and large number of undertrial prisoners housed in the prisons, we are of the considered view that some order deserves to be passed by us so that the under-trial prisoners do not continue to be detained in prison beyond the maximum period provided under section 436A.”

Section 436-A provides that an undertrial prisoner who is accused of an offence, other than one attracting death penalty, would be entitled to be released on personal bond with or without sureties if he had already been in detention for a period that is half of the maximum sentence he would have to undergo if convicted for the offences he has been charged with.

The court directed that the jurisdictional magistrate/chief judicial magistrate/sessions judge shall hold one sitting in a week in each jail/prison for two months from Oct 1 for this purpose and directed the jail superintendent concerned to provide all necessary facilities.

Directing the matter’s next hearing Dec 8, the court said on the completion of the two-month exercise, the registrar generals of the high courts will send a report and undertrial prisoners released to the secretary general of the apex court.

As the court ordered relief, Chief Justice Lodha said fast-tracking of criminal cases required multi-pronged strategy involving the creation of infrastructure, court complex, appointment of judicial officers to man the subordinate courts, and most importantly the financial backup.

“The whole problem is of finance. They (states) want the expenditure of judiciary be met by the centre. It can’t be done by the chief justice of the high courts. The problem (facing) the judiciary can’t be addressed without finance. This is an area where you have to take lead,” the court told Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi.

“We are trying (to deal) at the judicial side and the administrative side. Our hands are tied. We can’t do anything more,” the CJI said, asking Rohatgi to give a “road map” for fast tracking the criminal justice system.

The court granted Rohatgi three months’ time sought by him to place before the court the road map.

Addressing the court’s queries, the attorney general told the court that “it can’t be done by the centre alone” and the states will have to chip in too.

The court during the last hearing of the matter Aug 1 had asked Rohatgi whether the central government was contemplating fast-tracking criminal justice and, if so, whether any policy has been framed and steps taken in this regard

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