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On January 13, 2023, dealing with a case of delay upon delay in abiding by the policy of premature release, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the Uttar Pradesh jail administration. Following this, the Director General of Prisons of Uttar Pradesh was given strict instructions by a Supreme Court bench, comprising of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha, to take all necessary steps to make certain that requests for early release or remission are dealt with appropriately.
Facts of the case:
The directives were given in a case where a person was found guilty on February 2, 1984, for an offence punishable under Section 302 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 and sentenced to suffer rigorous imprisonment for life. In this case, the petitioner had spent 15 years and 14 days in custody without remission and 19 years and 4 months including some period of liberty. The petitioner had submitted a claim for premature release in September 2019, but –despite the fact that three years and three months have elapsed, the state has simply sat on his representation. A unique way that government’s find in delaying any implementation is by simply keeping a file “pending”; this file, too, has been pending for over three years.
Directives of the court:
The court considered the sorry situation of the affairs of the state and reprimanded the Director General of Prisoners that the pending application of the petitioner should have been considered given a structured and liberalized judicial regime that has now been put in place.
“In view of the settled position of law laid down by this Court the application filed by the petitioner is required to be considered on the basis of the policy as it stood on the date of the conviction. If a more liberalized regime has been brought into effect subsequently, this should also be considered.” (Para 5)
The court determined that there was no justification or explanation for the delay in processing the application for premature release.
“In the present case we find no reason or justification for the inordinate delay in dealing with the application of the petitioner for premature release.” (Para 7)
The court then ordered the Director General of Prisons to take all required actions within a month of the date of this order, and to ensure that the application for premature release is duly considered and decided. Additionally, the court ordered for the filing of an affidavit of compliance before the Supreme Court.
“We accordingly direct that within a month from the date of this order, the Director General of Prisons shall take all necessary steps to ensure that the application for premature release is duly considered and disposed of and file an affidavit of compliance before this Court on or before 15 February 2023. In the event that no such affidavit is filed, the Registry shall re-list the petition before this Court for directions for compliance.” (Para 8 and 9)
Finally, the court also warned the authorities at fault that if additional examples of the authorities’ reluctance in dealing with applications for premature release are brought to the Court’s attention, the Supreme Court may be forced to use the coercive arm of the law.
“The Director General of Prisons and all concerned authorities are placed on notice that this Court would be constrained to take recourse to the coercive arm of law if other instances indicating recalcitrance of the authorities in dealing with such applications are brought to the notice of the Court.” (Para 11)
The order may be read here.
Previous direction of the SC to UP DG on the release of convicts on remission
On January 5, 2023, the Uttar Pradesh government received harsh criticism from the Supreme Court for disobeying past directives issued by the Apex Court in regards to the issue of early release of convicts. The state’s response to the verdict of the Supreme Court, pronounced in September 2022, ordering the state to consider the early release of some convicts in accordance with a 2018 policy, was requested by the court through a personal affidavit from the director general of prisons for the state of Uttar Pradesh.
“In these proceedings, the specific cause for the Miscellaneous Application is that despite the previous orders of this Court, the case for remission/pre-mature release of fifty convicts has not been considered by the competent authority in the State of Uttar Pradesh.” (Para 1)
The court referred to its judgment in Rashidul Jafar @ Chota v State of Uttar Pradesh @ Chota v State of Uttar Pradesh, wherein the Supreme Court had expressly clarified that the State is duty bound to consider applications for pre-mature release in terms of its own policy without an application being required to be filed.
The court directed the DG-Prisons of UP to provide the affidavit elaboration on the following questions:
1. Number of steps taken in pursuance of the judgment in Rashidul Jafar vs State of Uttar Pradesh and the institutional arrangements put in place.
2. How many convicts are eligible for premature release district-wise?
3. How many cases have been considered for premature release since the judgment?
4. How many cases are pending?
5. Time period by when the cases will be considered. (Para 3)
The Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha had given the state three weeks to file the above mentioned affidavit. The bench also stated that a notice will also be issued to the Uttar Pradesh State Legal Services Authority.
The court further said “We request the UPSLSA to assist this Court through panel counsel so that the purpose underlying the directions which were issued in the above judgment is duly fulfilled.” (Para 7)
Furthermore, the bench had appointed Advocate Rishi Malhotra as an amicus curiae in the case to assist the court.
The order can be read here.
Brief about the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Rashidul Jafar case
On September 6, the Supreme Court emphasised that the State must implement its policy for the premature release of life-sentenced prisoners in an objective and transparent manner. The Court ruled that the State must diligently evaluate the cases of eligible inmates for remission after noting that numerous offenders languish in jail while serving lengthy sentences because they lack access to legal resources to seek for remission.
The decision followed a petition by more than 500 prisoners who objected to Uttar Pradesh’s new policy on premature release, which disqualified them despite serving 16 years of their sentence. These convicts were eligible for release as of August 1, 2018, but Uttar Pradesh took a stricter position and limited the eligibility of premature release to those who reached the age of 60 on July 28, 2021.However, the condition was later omitted by the state.
It had added there was no requirement for the convict to submit an application for premature release, and their cases will be considered automatically by jail authorities.
Additionally, the court had instructed the District Legal Service Authority to take the appropriate actions to make sure that no qualified prisoner is left behind in this respect.
The judgment can be read here.
Brief about UP’s policy for premature release:
According to the state’s most recent policy amendment, any prisoner who has served at least 16 years of their real sentence and 20 years (with remission) would be eligible to request for early release. Additionally, under the new policy of 2018, those who have been found guilty of three or more murders may be eligible for parole after serving 25 years of their real term and 30 years (with remission) of their life sentence.
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