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Written by: Shruti Srivastava (Intern)

Edited by: Anubhav Yadav (Content Head & Developer)

The Supreme Court recently directed the High Courts of various states to find out the number of incarcerated convicts and the status of their appeals against conviction. The Court directed that the convicts being represented by the advocates of legal aid committees of various states should not be fated to languish in jail, owing to the delay in the disposal of their appeals.

The direction was issued by the Court while deliberating upon the Special Leave Petition (SPL) that dealt with appeals (against conviction) pending before the High Courts, being looked after by the High Court Legal Service Committees. Mr Devansh A. Mohta, the learned Amicus Curiae assisting the court in this matter, appraised it of an exercise conducted with the Delhi High Court Legal Services Committee. By virtue of this exercise, a list of all the criminal appeals (of all the accused in custody) pending before the Delhi High Court and being looked after by the High Court Legal Services Committee was prepared. A chart was then shared with the National Legal Services Authority or NALSA.

As per the observations made in the chart, there have been a total of two hundred and thirty-two cases where fixed-term sentences, ranging from three years to twenty years have been imposed. Out of these, the accused, in some cases, has already undergone more than half of the sentence awarded, if not more. The remaining cases, one hundred and twenty-nine in number, were cases of a life sentence. Similar to the fixed-term sentences, some of the accused awarded with life imprisonment have been in custody for more than ten years.

The same exercise was conducted with the Chhattisgarh High Court where the pendency of criminal appeals was divided into two categories: one where the sentence is up to ten years and another, where the sentence is above ten years. A total of 1,162 appeals fell in the former category and 2,878 appeals fell in the latter. The Supreme Court bench, comprising of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice MM Sudhresh, commended the work done by these two High Courts and issued various directions thereon.

These directions are:

  • High Court Legal Services Committee of other High Courts to undertake the same exercise, under the supervision of NALSA, so that convicts represented by the legal aid committee advocates do not suffer due to unwarranted delay.
  • Delhi High Court to examine the feasibility of bail application of those cases where the convict has served more than half the sentence, in cases of fixed sentences; the same exercise to be undertaken in cases of life sentences, where eight years of actual custody has been undergone.
  • A pilot exercise to be conducted in Delhi and Chhattisgarh High Court, as per which the convicts serving fixed-term sentences are to be interacted with, about:
  • the offence conducted by them,
  • whether they agree to it and,
  • If they are willing to give up their appeals based on the sentence undergone.
  • A similar exercise is to be done with the convicts serving life sentences, where they are given an option to remit the remaining sentence instead of contesting it further.

While issuing these directions, the court also made it clear that the purpose of this exercise is to grant remission or commutation of sentence to those who have actually committed the offence and are remorseful now. It does not, in any way, wish to extract acceptance and quell its right to appeal.

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