High time to ease bail laws

The Law Commission’s recommendation for sweeping changes in the bail law, made in its 268th report, should be considered and acted upon immediately. In the report, the Commission has dealt with the problems of bail which go to the heart of the system of justice in the country and is the cause of many of its inadequacies and distortions. Bail is the basic right of an accused, because it rests on the idea that a person is presumed innocent till he is proved guilty. Therefore, keeping a person in jail without grant of bail is wrong and unjust. The norm that bail should be the rule rather than exception is well accepted and implemented in all democratic systems that follow the rule of law. But in India, the norm is widely violated. It is difficult for poor people and those from the weaker sections to get bail and many of them have to spend time in jail, sometimes for longer periods than the term they would have to undergo as punishment.

The main reason for denial of bail is that most accu­sed cannot afford bail bonds or provide securities. By stating that bail decisions should not be influenced by factors such as ‘gender, race, ethnicity, financial conditions or social status’, the Commission hints that such factors play part in the decisions now. The Supreme Court has taken notice of this in the past and has said that poverty should not be a reason for denial of bail. Lower courts often adopt a very narrow and mechan­ical attitude on bail. The Commission says it should be ‘fair and evidence-based’ and no accused should be made to suffer for want of money or because of the biases and prejudices in the system. It has made some concrete suggestions too. They include strengthening the provisions in law which will allow prisoners to be released on personal bonds after they have served a certain part of their maximum period of probable imprisonment. It also wants the decisions to be time-bound. They need to be implemented effectively too.

The magnitude of the problem can be realised from the fact that undertrials make up 67% of the inmates of prisons now. Some of them become criminals during their stay in jail. Liberal bail norms and the release of prisoners on the basis of the changes in law proposed by the Commission can lead to an easing of the problem of overcrowding of jails. More importantly, it will ensure that all the accused are treated fairly and get equal justice. Efforts for this should not go the way of past initiatives in this respect.

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