The Social Justice Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice U.U. Lalit has reportedly observed that poverty cannot be a ground for retaining a person in custody due to non-furnishing of bail amount. It has directed the State legal Service Authority lawyers to file urgent applications before Courts across the country and secure release of these undertrials.
As per Section 436-A CrPC a prisoner is entitled to bail if he completes half of the maximum imposable sentence in Jail as an Under Trial Prisoner.
In another landmark Judgment of RD Upadhyaya vs UOI, Supreme Court has even further reduced the period of detention of UTPs to even less than one haf of maximum imposable sentence.
Section 436 A CrPC.– Maximum period for which an undertrial prisoner can be detained-
Where a person has, during the period of investigation, inquiry or trial under this Code of an offence under any law (not being an offence for which the punishment of death has been specified as one of the punishments under that law) undergone detention for a period extending up to one-half of the maximum period of imprisonment specified for that offence under that law, he shall be released by the Court on his personal bond with or without sureties:
Provided that the Court may, after hearing the Public Prosecutor and for reasons to be recorded by it in writing, order the continued detention of such person for a period longer than one-half of the said period or release him on bail instead of the personal bond with or without sureties:
Provided further that no such person shall in any case be detained during the period of investigation inquiry or trial for more than the maximum period of imprisonment provided for the said offence under that law.
Explanation.- In computing the period of detention under this section for granting bail the period of detention passed due to delay in proceeding caused by the accused shall be excluded.
As per the Court, cases of prisoners accused of compoundable offences and of undertrials, who have completed half of the jail term which they would undergo in case of conviction, can be taken up by SLSAs. These cases will be reviewed by SSLAs on June 30. SSLAs comprise of District Judges, District Magistrates and District Superintendents of Police.
The Court had earlier demanded information relating to total number of people who were still in jails in connection to petty criminal cases, due to non-furnishing of bail amount.
The Bench took note of the fact that a large number of people languish in prisons because of their inability to furnish bail bonds despite passing of Bail orders.
Supreme Court in the case of R.D. Upadhyay v. State of A.P. and Ors., (1996) 3 SCC 422, observed,
"So far as the cases regarding attempt to murder are concerned, we direct that the cases which are pending for more than 2 years, the undertrials shall be released on ball forthwith to the satisfaction of the respective trial courts. Persons facing trail for Kidnapping, Theft, Cheating, Arms Act, Counterfeiting. Customs, under Section 326 IPC. under Section 324 IPC, one year, shall be released on bail forthwith to the satisfaction of the trial courts concerned. There may be cases where the undertrial persons may no be in a position to furnish sureties etc. In those cases, the trial courts may consider – keeping in view the facts of each case especially the period spent in jail – releasing them on bail by-furnishing personal bonds"
The Affidavit filed by the Home Ministry informed the Court that as on December 31, 2013, 2, 78,000 persons were in jails across the country. Out of the total, 67% are undertrials.