Out of box thinking required to unclog jails, reduce burden of criminal cases in courts: SC

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Supreme Court of India | Photo: Mathrubhumi

New Delhi: Some "out of the box" thinking is required to unclog jails and reduce the burden of criminal cases in courts, observed the Supreme Court on Friday while stressing that some steps should be taken by the authorities when the nation is celebrating 75 years of independence.

The apex court said some "tokenism" can be done before independence day this year to send a signal that the government is looking into this aspect.

A bench of Justice S K Kaul and M M Sundresh, which was hearing matters relating to the pendency of appeals in criminal cases for a long, observed that clogging of trial courts by criminal cases is an important aspect.

The bench told Additional Solicitor General (ASG) K M Nataraj, who was appearing in the matter, that if something is done by the authorities this year in this regard then it would have a "very positive" effect.

"Think a little out of the box. If you can do something, persuade the government to do something before the independence day, it may send a signal," the bench told the ASG.

The apex court had last week expressed displeasure over the long delays in hearing bail applications of convicted prisoners pending their appeals and had pulled up the Allahabad High Court, saying it should start thinking "out of the box" and convene even on off days to ensure quick disposal.

The top court had observed that it was prepared to "take the extra burden" and call the applications to the apex court if the high court was finding it "difficult" to handle them.

It had noted that there were 853 pending criminal appeals where petitioners have spent more than 10 years in jail.

During the hearing on Friday, the bench told ASG, "We are celebrating 75 years of independence. Why cannot some action be taken by the states and the Government of India."

Nataraj said the authority is working out the modalities on this.

He said in fact, the Prime Minister had recently spoken about the issue.

On July 30, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that ease of justice was equally important as ease of living as India celebrates the 75th year of its independence.

While addressing the first All India District Legal Services Authorities Meet here, the Prime Minister urged the judiciary to expedite the release of undertrials languishing in various jails.

The bench observed on Friday that if every criminal case has to come right up to the apex court, then some out-of-the-box thinking has to be there.

It also observed what is the point in keeping someone behind the bars for say 20 or 25 years.

"The problem is, we see the punitive part only. The reformative part we do not see," the bench said, adding the solution cannot be to keep someone in jail for a long time.

"The worrisome part is if the appeals are allowed, who is going to give them these years back," it said.

The top court said a person who has committed the crime must suffer the sentence but prolonged litigation is not a solution to this.

The bench observed that the Centre, in collaboration with the states, can come out with a policy in this regard.

It said that if the authorities can do something in this regard this year, it will have a very positive effect, both in unclogging the jails and unclogging the trial courts also.

The bench has posted the matter for further hearing in September.

Earlier, the apex court had ordered the registration of a suo motu case to consider laying down guidelines to deal with the long pendency of criminal appeals in the Allahabad High Court.


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