The Supreme Court has ordered that undertrials who have completed half their sentences should be released. This raises the question, “Why are the undertrials in prison?” As per our declared principles of justice, “Everyone is to be considered innocent until they are proved guilty.” If they are truly being considered innocent till proved guilty, they shouldn’t have been in prison in the first place.
The order stating that only undertrials who have completed half their sentences are to be released gives the impression that the principle actually being followed is that they are all guilty until proved innocent, and releasing them after they have been confined for half their term is a magnanimous gesture – some sort of a favour. This is the opposite of the declared principles of Justice.
The next Chief Justice of India, Justice Dattu had declared in his judgement in the 2G case, “The courts owe more than verbal respect to the principle that punishment begins after conviction, and that every man is deemed to be innocent until duly tried and found guilty.”
Going by that reasoning, which has been repeated time and again proudly as the cornerstone of the Indian system of Justice, it follows that undertrials have all been wrongly confined by the State. They are probably entitled to be compensated for what they have undergone, regardless of the outcome of the case.
There could be certain cases where it is feared that the accused may tamper with the evidence, or intimidate witnesses. In such cases, maybe externment could be a solution, or, in extreme cases, where there is no other choice, the accused could be confined. For all such actions, the reasons would have to be clearly specified, so that the option of appealing against this would always be there to the accused.
At present, all we do is pay lip service to the judicial philosophy of developed countries, while maintaining our own primitive mindset.
By: Asif Merchant
Image Source: undertrials
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