Policy Must Be Implemented In Transparent Manner Without Violating Articles 14 & 21 – SC Issues Directions To UP Govt. On Premature Release
The Supreme Court has issued a slew of directions to the Uttar Pradesh Government on the premature release of convicts sentenced to life imprisonment.
The Court held that the implementation of the policy regarding premature release should be implemented in an objective and transparent manner as otherwise, it would impinge upon constitutional guarantees under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
The Bench of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Hima Kohli observed that the prison administration, legal services authorities at the district and state level, and officers of the police department and the state must diligently ensure that cases of eligible prisoners are considered on the basis of policy parameters.
The Court further directed –
i) All cases for premature release of convicts undergoing imprisonment for life in the present batch of cases shall be considered in terms of the policy dated 1 August 2018, as amended, subject to the observations which are contained herein. The restriction that a life convict is not eligible for premature release until attaining the age of sixty years, which was introduced by the policy of 28 July 2021, stands deleted by the amendment dated 27 May 2022. Hence, no case for premature release shall be rejected on that ground;
ii) In the event that any convict is entitled to more liberal benefits by any of the amendments which have been brought about subsequent to the policy dated 1 August 2018, the case for the grant of premature release would be considered by granting benefit in terms of more liberal amended para/clause of the policies. All decisions of premature release of convicts, including those, beyond the present batch of cases would be entitled to such a beneficial reading of the policy;
iii) In terms of para 4 of the policy dated 1 August 2018, no application is required to be submitted by a convict undergoing life imprisonment for premature release. Further, through amendment dated 28 July 2021, para 3(i), which included convicts undergoing life imprisonment who have not filed application for pre-mature release in the prohibited category, has specifically been deleted. Accordingly, all cases of convicts undergoing life sentence in the State of Uttar Pradesh who are eligible for being considered for premature release in terms of the policy, including but not confined to the five hundred and twelve prisoners involved in the present batch of cases, shall be considered in terms of the procedure for premature release stipulated in the policy;
iv) The District Legal Services Authorities in the State of Uttar Pradesh shall take necessary steps in coordination with the jail authorities to ensure that all eligible cases of prisoners who would be entitled to premature release in terms of the applicable policies, as noticed above, would be duly considered and no prisoner, who is otherwise eligible for being considered, shall be excluded from consideration;
v) These steps to be taken by DLSAs would, include but not be limited to, Secretaries of DLSAs seeking status report on all prisoners undergoing life imprisonment in the prisons falling under their jurisdiction in terms of the format of table prepared in Annexure-A covering the details mentioned in para 13 of this judgment and ensuring its submission by relevant authorities within eight weeks of this order as well as on an annual basis. Further, DLSAs would utilize this status report to monitor and engage with respective authorities to ensure the implementation of our directions to ensure premature release in terms of applicable policies in all eligible cases of convicts undergoing life sentence on a continuous basis;
vi) The applications for premature release shall be considered expeditiously. Those cases which have already been processed and in respect of which reports have been submitted shall be concluded and final decisions intimated to the convict no later than within a period of one month from the date of this order. Cases of eligible life convicts who are (i) above the age of seventy years; or (ii) suffering from terminal ailments shall be taken up on priority and would be disposed of within a period of two months. The Uttar Pradesh State Legal Services Authority shall, within a period of two weeks, lay down the priorities according to which all other pending cases shall be disposed of. All other cases shall, in any event, be disposed of within a period of four months from the date of this order; and
vii) Where any convict undergoing life imprisonment has already been released on bail by the orders of this Court, the order granting interim bail shall continue to remain in operation until the disposal of the application for premature release.
In this case, batch of appeals were preferred that emanated from Uttar Pradesh. Five Hundred and Twelve convicts who were undergoing life imprisonment sought premature release.
On August 1, 2018, the Govt. of UP issued a policy regarding the premature release of convicts with the approval of the Governor under Article 161 of the Constitution. The policy is described as a "Standing Policy regarding the premature release of prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment on the occasion of every Republic Day (26th January).
On July 28th, 2021, an amendment was carried out to the policy which stated that a convict undergoing imprisonment for life would not be released until the age of sixty years is attained.
The imposition of the requirement that a convict undergoing imprisonment for life would not be eligible for premature release until attaining the age of sixty years led to the institution of petitions under Article 32 of the Constitution before the Apex Court.
The challenge was inter alia on the ground that the plea for premature release must be considered on the basis of the law as it stood on the date of conviction and that a subsequent policy that operates to restrict the ambit of a policy prevailing on the date of conviction must not be allowed to obstruct the plea for release. Moreover, it was urged that the requirement that a convict cannot be considered for premature release before the age of sixty would violate the right to life under Article 21 by subjecting a convict to long years of incarceration.
Subsequently, on May 27th, 2022, the policy was further amended and the requirement that a convict undergoing life imprisonment could be considered for release only after attaining the age of sixty has been deleted.
Following the amendment, various counter-affidavits were filed before the Apex Court in various cases. The Court while dealing with the Petitions under Article 32 had noted that the cases of the convicts undergoing life imprisonment would be dealt with in accordance with the policy as it existed prior to the amendment which was brought about on 28 July 2021.
AAG Garima Prashad appeared for the State of UP before the Apex Court.
The Bench noted, "The implementation of the policy for premature release has to be carried out in an objective and transparent manner as otherwise it would impinge on the constitutional guarantees under Articles 14 and 21. Many of these life convicts who have suffered long years of incarceration have few or no resources. Lack of literacy, education and social support structures impede their right to access legal remedies. Once the state has formulated its policy defining the terms for premature release, due consideration in terms of the policy must be given to all eligible convicts. The constitutional guarantees against arbitrary treatment and of the right to secure life and personal liberty must not be foreclosed by an unfair process of considering applications for premature release in terms of the policy."
Accordingly, the Court issued the directions for the UP Government on premature release and disposed of the Petitions.
Cause Title - Rashidul Jafar @ Chota v. State of Uttar Pradesh & Anr