Allahabad HC: What is the logical reason for curtailing liberty of accused in absence of trial?

The high court raised this question while considering a bail application of an accused against whom charges were framed in March 2019 and trial halted due to Covid-19


The Allahabad High Court, on November 17 has raised a rather pertinent question about the criminal justice system that is the most affected due to Covid pandemic. While considering a bail application of an undertrial, charges against whom were framed as long back as March 2019, the court questioned the reason behind keeping the accused under judicial custody.

A status report was filed by Sessions Judge, Gonda, before the single judge bench of Justice Rajesh Singh Chauhan stating that charges were framed against the accused, Ram Niwas, on March 26, 2019 and there after trial proceedings were held up due Covid-19 situation but the date for examination of witness was now fixed for November 26, 2020.

The high court observed that the trial court was unable to proceed the trial on account of Covid-19.

“If the trial court is unable to proceed the trial then there may not be any logical reason to keep the accused under judicial custody inasmuch as it appears that COVID-19 situation is not going to be controlled in days to come. Therefore, in that situation, the question before the Court would be as to whether liberty of the accused-applicant may be curtailed when the trial courts are unable to proceed the trial.”

The court further asked the state to address on the next date of hearing what course the court should adopt because “for want of logical explanation for not conducting the trial, the fundamental right granted to every citizen under Article 21 of the Constitution of India may not be denied.”

The court also pointed out that the accused is languishing in judicial custody so that trial can be conducted and concluded at the earliest but the situation seems otherwise.

The court has thus asked the AGA to seek instructions from trial court as well as from the Law Department of the State as to whether in absence of trial, liberty of the accused-applicant may be curtailed, if so, what may be the logical reasons to that effect. The case will be next heard on December 7, 2020.

Due to the pandemic the criminal justice system has been brought almost to a halt and as the court rightly pointed out, this amounts to a violation of the right to life and dignity of the accused. Naturally, this applies to the numerous undertrials languishing in prisons across the country.

As per National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) 2019 Prison Report, there were 69.05% undertrials in Indian prisons as of 2019; this was a 2.15% jump from the 2018 figures and it is highly probable that this number has increased for the year 2020. Notably, Uttar Pradesh itself reported the maximum number of undertrials (22.2%, 73,418 undertrials) in the country, as per the 2019 report.

Hence, the question being raised by the Allahabad High Court holds much relevance for the current times where the criminal justice system is running in a rather restricted manner thus violating human rights of the undertrials languishing in prisons.

The high court order may be read here.


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