G ANANTHAPADMANABHAN SAYS THOUSANDS OF DEFENDANTS ARE LOCKED UP PENDING TRIAL IN INDIA FOR YEARS- INDIA SUPREME COURT ORDERS RELIEF

In the United States, it is possible to be held without bail, especially in federal court, but a defendant is entitled to “Speedy Proceedings” including timely evidentiary hearings and trial. Bails may be set prohibitively high creating scenarios which swallow or render meaningless the constitutional right to bail- especially for the poor; it is not unusual to have bails set at one million or more for indigent defendants. But the right to a speedy trial clearly distinguishes judicial practices between India and the United States. According to India’s then law minister, Veerappa Moiily in 2011, 562,000 “undertrial” (defendants waiting for their trials to commence) were released on bail between January 26th, 2010 and May 31st, 2011. At the time, over 1 million defendants were locked up waiting for trial, some for very minor “offences” and for many who were simply too poor to post bail. Although Article 21 of the India Constitution has guaranteed personal liberty rights since 1979 (as a fundamental right), thousands of prisoners still remain locked away for long periods says G Ananthapadmanabhan, chief executive of Amnesty International- India. Similarly, Suhas Chakma, director of the New Deli-based Asian Centre of Human Rights said these people are “languishing in jails” and “are “not aware of their rights”.

This past September the India Supreme Court Ordered all lower courts to implement plans for enforcement of the rule (in the India Constitution since 1979) to free “undertrial” defendants (pending their trials) from jail if they have already served one-half of the maximum term of jail applicable to their cases. The country is rife with poor and voiceless men, woman and teens who have already served lengthy jail terms for what might be considered misdemeanors in the U.S. It is estimated that there were 30 million trials of all types pending in India in 2012 and 4 million “criminal” defendants currently waiting for their trials in 2014. The new court Order should impact around two-thirds of these people. It is impossible to determine the prejudice to defendants, in terms of trial preparation and finding favorable witnesses given the long delays between their arrests and trial. Presumptions of innocence and due process of law equally appear to be almost nonexistent.

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