The Supreme Court on Friday reiterated that prisoners, especially from the weaker economic social milieu, who have been languishing in jail for 10 years, should be released on bail, and since the country is celebrating 75 years of Independence, some action in this direction should be taken by both the Central and state governments.
A bench of Justices S.K. Kaul and M.M. Sundresh said that prisoners who are languishing in jail for 10 years should be released on bail and prisoners who have been in jail for 14 years, should be considered for remission. It suggested developing a uniform remission policy, if possible, for all state governments and in cases where state governments have an objection to grant bail to some accused, who have spent 10 years or more in prison, those matters could be examined separately.
Justice Kaul said: "We are celebrating 75 years of Independence, why can't some action be taken by state governments... it is an appropriate time to look into the issue where an accused has been languishing in jail for a long period of time, from the weaker economic social milieu... Accused who have been charged with a single crime."
He added that the Central government could initiate a discussion with the state governments in cases where period in custody has exceeded a certain part of the maximum sentence, for example one-third of the sentence.
Justice Kaul also emphasised that good behaviour of the prisoner should also be considered as a condition for their release, which would unburden the trial courts in many cases.
The bench pointed at plea bargain, which is much prevalent in the US, but added that sometimes it may not work, as the social stigma of conviction may force the accused to not accept the guilt. "Trial courts may use it usefully," it noted.
Justice Kaul pointed out that if every case has to be tried till the end, and if every case has to go to appeal and be heard by the apex court, then it may take several hundred years to tackle pendency. "Out of box thinking is required," he said.
The bench added that in cases, conviction has not taken place and trial is pending for a long time, as a one-time measure, the trial could be closed, and those accused which are in good behaviour category can be considered for release.
It observed that in cases where the accused have served one-third of the sentence, bail can be granted on good behaviour. "The idea is to send a message - where one case is pending against an accused, he can give a bond of good behaviour then proceedings can be dropped," said the bench.
Justice Sundresh said: "Some appeals are allowed... who will give them back those years, for which they have been incarcerated."
The bench told Additional Solicitor General K.M. Nataraj, representing the Central government, that in collaboration with the state governments, Centre can come up with a policy."Please come up with something... a little out of box thinking." As Nataraj sought four weeks' time in the matter, Justice Kaul said: "Do something by Independence Day... it will send a message.. do some beginning.''
After a detailed hearing in the matter, the top court scheduled the matter for further hearing on September 14.
Advocate Arjun Garg, representing the Madhya Pradesh High Court, said: "Taking note of the data provided by various high courts with regard to pendency of criminal appeals, especially such cases which are pending for more than 10 years, the court observed that the country is celebrating Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav and some relief can be granted to persons in jail for over 10 and 14 years. The court called upon the ASG to find out if some solution can be worked out by Independence Day in this regard."
The top court was hearing connected cases arising from Uttar Pradesh, where persons are in jail for long periods, and also a suo moto case regarding policy strategy for grant of bail is on