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In bail orders, courts should consider prisoners’ ability to pay: Supreme Court

ByAbraham Thomas
Jul 25, 2023 09:57 PM IST

The Supreme Court was dealing with a report that revealed that as of January this year, 5,380 prisoners were granted bail but were still in jail

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday told trial courts to consider the financial status of prisoners while setting bail conditions after finding instances where individuals were unable to post bail due to their financial circumstances, leading to extended periods of incarceration.

A bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia is hearing a case where the top court is considering steps to reform the policy on bail. (HT PHOTO)
A bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia is hearing a case where the top court is considering steps to reform the policy on bail. (HT PHOTO)

“We believe that every endeavour must be made by courts that when they grant bail, it must be fruitful as the imposition of bail conditions that are beyond the economic condition of the prisoner does not serve any purpose. It leads to a situation where a prisoner is not able to be released on bail,” said a bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia in a case where the top court is considering steps to reform the policy on bail.

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On Tuesday, the court was dealing with a report prepared by amicus curiae Gaurav Agarwal that revealed that as of January this year, 5,380 prisoners were granted bail but were still in jail. Their cases were taken up by the state legal services authorities (SLSA) which linked their continued incarceration to their inability to furnish bail bonds stipulated by the courts.

The SLSAs informed the National Legal Service Authority (NALSA) that applications for modification of bail conditions were subsequently moved before the respective courts and 4,215 prisoners were released on bail by July 21. The remaining 1,165 prisoners could not be released as they stood convicted in multiple cases where they had not applied for bail.

Agarwal held consultations with NALSA member secretary Santosh Snehi Mann and came up with three suggestions, one of which was to consider orienting the judicial officers in trial courts not to impose hefty bail bonds which are beyond the reach of the prisoners. In this regard, it also recommended preparing a module for orientation programmes in association with state judicial academies to sensitise judges.

The amicus report suggested monitoring the release of accused who are granted bail. The bench found this suggestion to be helpful and proposed the development of an educational module for judicial officers. However, the judges noted from their experience that training alone may not be enough.

“There are different aspects to this problem. Certainly, there has been an impact but not to the extent we thought,” the bench added.

Agarwal informed the court that under the e-prisons software introduced by the central government and operated by the National Informatics Centre (NIC), there is an automatic e-mail alert sent to the secretary of the district legal service authority (DLSA) if the accused remains in jail beyond a week after being released on bail.

Agarwal’s note said, “With the software developed by NIC, it is now easy for the jail authorities and secretary, DLSA to identify undertrials who have not been released even after grant of bail and take remedial measures.”

The Court allowed NALSA to monitor the e-prisons software for email alerts for the next 3-4 months and report difficulties, if any, and suggest improvements.

In addition, the court also dealt with updating information on e-prisons software by integrating the information on trial court cases with prison records.

Advocate Devansh Mohta submitted a report where he said that presently data on FIRs are accessible from the Crime and Criminal Tracking System (CCTNS) which covers 16,323 out of 16,766 police stations. The data on prosecution is available under the e-prosecution service which is available in 687 out of 751 prosecution districts.

The court also considered suggestions contained in a third report prepared by advocate Liz Mathew on the premature release of prisoners and the need to update state-specific remission criteria on the e-prisons software. The court directed all states to adopt the standard operating procedure (SOP) issued by NALSA in this regard and directed the data updation on remission policies to be done before October 31, when the matter will be heard next for passing further orders.

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