SC suo motu takes up delay in releasing prisoners after bail
The Supreme Court has taken suo motu cognisance of the delay by jail authorities in releasing convicts after they have been granted bail by superior courts, and a bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana will hear the matter on Friday.
The apex court was faced with a situation on July 8, when the top court ordered prison authorities of the Central Jail in Agra to release 13 convicts who were found to be juveniles at the time of commission of crimes. These convicts spent 14 to 22 years in jail despite Juvenile Justice Boards giving clear findings that were not adults when the crimes were committed.
It took four days for the jail authorities to execute the release of the convicts. When this delay was brought to the notice of the top court on July 13 by advocate Rishi Malhotra, appearing for the convicts, a bench of justices Indira Banerjee and V Ramasubramanian decided to take up the matter on the administrative side to issue necessary directions.
The same day, the suo motu case was registered under the title “In Reference: Delay in Release of Convicts After Grant of Bail”. A three-judge bench comprising the CJI and justices L Nageswara Rao and AS Bopanna will hear the matter.
Commenting on the suo moto proceedings, Malhotra suggested that, to cut delay, the Registry of the Supreme Court can e-mail the bail order to the superintendent of the concerned jail.
“The superintendent of jail can always verify by calling up the Supreme Court, and can ascertain the veracity of the bail order from the Supreme Court’s website. This will not only save time but would be expeditious keeping in view that bail orders should not be detained for more than one day,” he said.
The 13 convicts approached the Supreme Court last month on the grounds that their detention was “illegal”, citing the Juvenile Justice Board orders passed at various intervals between February 2017 and March 2021 declaring them to be below 18 at the time of committing the crime.
As per procedures under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2000, Once a person accused of a crime is found to be a juvenile at the time of commission of that crime, the regular court will require sending the matter to the Juvenile Justice Board for trial of the case.
Juvenile offenders can be given a maximum sentence of three years and this period has to be undergone in an observation/juvenile home.
The petitioners relied on a public interest litigation taken up by in 2012 in which the Allahabad high court was told about a significant number of prisoners lodged in jails across Uttar Pradesh who were juveniles at the time of committing the crimes. The high court called for a report from Director General (Prisons), who confirmed this fact.
In May 2012, the high court ordered an enquiry by Juvenile Justice Boards, which resulted in the orders being passed with regard to the 13 convicts.
Leading criminal lawyer and senior advocate Sidharth Luthra said the problem with delayed release of persons granted bail has increased over the years and needs redress.
“There are cases in which the investigating agency raises objection to bail bonds on the grounds that they need to verify the address and particulars in the bail bond. As a consequence, the accused continues to remain in jail. The Code of Criminal Procedure does provide for verification of bail bonds but that cannot become a matter of course to deny a person’s liberty,” he said.