Rajasthan HC: Grants Bail to NDPS Offender in Jail for 6 Yrs, Issue Regarding Inmates Awaiting Trial was Raised

Rajasthan high court Law Insider

Sakina Tashrifwala

Published on: 11 November 2022 at 18:00 IST

The Rajasthan High Court granted bail to an NDPS accused in light of his more than 6 years of incarceration as an under-trial, noting that despite Supreme Court recommendations, legal reforms, and executive reforms, there has been little improvement in the situation of the under-trials.

The bench headed by Justice Farjand Ali commented, “This Court is concerned about how incarceration weakens those who are awaiting trial, and how those years spent in imprisonment would be compensated if, after a protracted trial, the accused is found not guilty.”

“….The issue of a high number of inmates awaiting trial and their substandard living conditions has been obstinately resisting the otherwise blazing face of our democracy “

Additionally, the court outlined the following criteria when deciding a bail application in light of the right to a speedy trial:

I) The delay shouldn’t have been used as a strategy of defence. It will also be seen who is to blame for the delay. The accused is not always prejudiced by delays.

ii) The goal is to avoid interpreting the right to a quick trial in a way that ignores the seriousness of the crime, the severity of the punishment, the number of defendants and witnesses, the local legal climate, and other systemic delays.

iii) The benefit of bail shall not be granted to the accused if there is good cause to suspect that he will undoubtedly evade justice if released on bail and that it will be difficult for the investigating agency to track him down again.

iv) In cases like these, extreme caution must be used before granting bail to the accused if it can be demonstrated through the submission of compelling evidence that doing so could cause a stir in society, result in witnesses for the prosecution declining to testify against him, or have any other negative effects on the prosecution’s case.

The bench did, however, add that the (iii) and (iv) points are to be considered only when strong and cogent evidence is placed on record or when a compelling reason in support has emerged, and definitely not just on the basis of a simple, blanket submission made by the counsel appearing on behalf of the prosecution/complainant/victim.

The Court further noted that there is no harm in leaning towards extending the benefit of bail in favour of the accused as long as it is limited to the justifiable disposition of the bail if there appears even a remote chance that the accused will be found not guilty based on any of the submissions made by counsel for the parties.

In the absence of extraordinary and compelling reasons, this Court is adamant that the accused should be released on bail if he has been detained pending trial for a length of time that exceeds what is reasonable.

Court remarked that both the prosecutor and the court have a responsibility to make sure that the prosecution’s evidence is delivered in a timely manner that is fair and just. In cases where the trial lasted a long time and ended in acquittal, the assistance of the provision for setting off the period of incarceration endured while awaiting trial with the term of imprisonment determined by the convicting Court in the order of sentence cannot be taken.

An under-trial prisoner cannot be forced to wait for the conclusion of the trial for an indefinite amount of time because pre-conviction detention is, to some extent, punitive in nature and goes against the established rule of criminal jurisprudence that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty, the bench noted in a detailed judgement outlining the fundamental right of the accused to a speedy trial and discussing its evolution.

The Court also considered the appalling conditions of the prisons in the nation, noting that prisoners in India must take turns sleeping because there is not enough room for everyone to do so at once.

The court highlighted that, “They lack access to basic necessities including a nourishing diet, sanitary conditions, sewerage, and cleanliness since they are crammed into the cells like sardines.”

“Everything is provided by the state in defined quantities for the number of convicts that the jail is designated to hold, not for the number of prisoners that it really holds, starting with food and rations and continuing with goods like soap, detergent, toothpaste, etc. Such severe and inhumane treatment of a prisoner awaiting trial is not acceptable in these circumstances, “

The Court further stated that it is past time for the legal system to address the implementation gap and make sure that a trial is over as quickly as feasible.

Moreover, the Court ruled that the State must keep a computerised record of every prisoner and employ instruments to display from the database the names of those inmates who have been eligible for release under Section 436A of Criminal Procedure Code and those who have otherwise spent a significant amount of time awaiting trial.

The Court also recommended that the State maintain a pool of police officers and legal aid attorneys to ensure that prisoners awaiting trial appear before the lower court on time and are not forced to stay in prison for longer than is absolutely required.

Notably, the Court also ruled that occasionally, lawyers should take on such pro-bono matter because so many inmates who are awaiting trial in jails are underprivileged, uneducated, or lack sufficient primary and secondary education and are unable to choose the best line of action legally.

Regarding the petitioner’s case, the Court determined that expanding the petitioner on bail was just and proper after taking into account the aforementioned observations, particularly the fact that the right to a speedy trial is a fundamental right, the overcrowding and unbalanced prisoner-to-prisoner ratio, the justification for detaining an arrestee, being aware of the rigor of Section 37 of the NDPS Act.

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