India: Supreme Court order on undertrials must spur systemic changes

A landmark order by India’s Supreme Court directing the release of all undertrial prisoners who have spent more than half of the maximum punishment for the crime they are charged with in pre-trial detention should lead to long-term changes to the criminal justice system, Amnesty International India said today. “The Supreme Court’s order is inspiring and welcome,” said Divya Iyer, Research Manager at Amnesty International India. “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.”“Releasing eligible undertrials is however only the first step. Authorities need to also set up various mechanisms to prevent excessive pre-trial detention in the future. These include proper prison record management, informing undertrials about their rights, better co-ordination to ensure that undertrials attend their court hearings, and improved legal aid.”Amnesty International India’s “Take Injustice Personally” campaign aims to identify and facilitate the release of undertrial prisoners eligible for release under law, including those who have already been in prison for over half the term they would have faced if convicted. These undertrials are eligible to be released on personal bond under Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure.“With both the central government and the Supreme Court showing their intent and commitment to reduce prolonged pre-trial detention and uphold prisoners’ fundamental rights, there is hope that this serious issue will finally get the attention it deserves,” said Divya Iyer.