The Supreme Court on Friday i.e., 5th Sept 2014, ordered the country’s overcrowded jails to free all inmates who have served half their maximum term without trial, in a landmark ruling with potential implications for hundreds of thousands of prisoners.
More than two-thirds of India’s nearly four million prison inmates are awaiting trial, according to Amnesty International, many having already spent years in prison. India’s criminal procedure code already states that prisoners in pre-trial detention must be released once they have served half the maximum sentence they would receive if found guilty, but the law is rarely implemented.
On Friday, Chief Justice R.M. Lodha said prisons across the country must comply with the law, and ordered local judges and magistrates to oversee the process.
“Judicial officers shall identify prisoners who have completed half of the maximum period of imprisonment provided for offences they are charged with,” he said. “After completing the procedure they should pass appropriate orders in the jail itself for the release of undertrial prisoners.” It is not yet clear how many prisoners will be affected by the ruling. Amnesty International India says thousands of inmates are kept locked up for long periods as they await trial, often for minor offences. “The Supreme Court’s order is inspiring and welcome,” said the organisation’s research manager, Divya Iyer. “Two out of three prisoners in India are undertrials. Excessive pre-trial detention violates detainees” right to a fair and speedy trial, and leads to overcrowding in jails.”