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Release undertrials who have spent half their term: SC

Release undertrials who have spent half their term: SC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday said that those undertrial prisoners would now be released 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.

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

The court said that in the two months' drive, starting Oct 1, a sessions judge and judicial officers subordinate to him will visit the jails under their jurisdiction to examine such cases and order the undertrials' release.

The apex court said that it has to be ensured that an undertrial does not remain jailed for a period more than the one he might have sentenced to upon conviction for the offence he is charged with.

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

The court order is rooted in Section 436-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure which says that the cases other than those wherein death sentence is attracted, if an accused during the period of investigation or trial has undergone detention that is half of the maximum period of imprisonment specified for that offence under the law, he should be released by the court on his personal bond with or without sureties subject to expectations as may be recorded for reasons in writing by the court.

As the court ordered relief for the undertrials who are languishing in jails pending their trials, Chief Justice Lodha said the fast tracking of the 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.

Chief Justice Lodha said, "We are trying (to deal) at the judicial side and the administrative side. Our hands are tied. We can't do anything more."

Asking Rohatgi to give a "road map" for fast tracking the criminal justice system and "how we will go about it", Chief Justice Lodha said: "Our's is the only country with such a huge litigating population and we have so inadequate number of judges. In no other country the situation is like this."

The chief justice said that there were more than 30 million cases and just 20,000 judges right from Chief Justice of India to the last court in the country with their usual vacancies.

The court granted Attorney General Rohatgi three months' time sought by him to place before the court the road map for fast tracking the criminal justice system.

During the course of the hearing, the court inquired what were the budgetary allocations for judiciary in the financial year 2014-15. Counsel Prashant Bhushan said it came to about 0.26 percent of the total budget.

Addressing the queries from the court, Attorney General Rohatgi told the court that "it can't be done by the Centre alone. The states will have to be there. Subordinate courts are in the states."

The attorney general said that the "exercise (of addressing the problems facing the judiciary) is on. It is bound to take time. We can't do without states. We have to take states along."

The court during the last hearing of the matter Aug 1, 2014, had asked Attorney General 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.

Holding that for good governance, it is necessary that courts are strengthened and criminal justice fast-tracked, the court had said, "Fast-tracking of a few categories of criminal cases without creation of additional courts and infrastructure creates more burden on the category of cases left out from fast tracking."

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