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The Kerala High Court on Monday directed the release of prisoners facing up to 7 years' imprisonment, to decongest jails as a precautionary measure against the spread of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and in line with the the Supreme Court’s directive on this aspect.
The three-judge Bench of Justices CK Abdul Rahim, CT Ravikumar and Raja Vijayaraghavan V was also informed today that about 450 convicted prisoners have been released on special parole to this end.
In order to avoid further delay in the matter, and opining that the personal liberty of persons entitled to statutory bail under Section 167 (2) CrPC cannot be curtailed, the Court has now also passed the following directions:
Interim bail has been granted to all under-trial/remanded prisoners incarcerated in the jails within the State, who face accusation of having committed offences punishable upto 7 years or less, with or without fine.
The above order will not apply to prisoners having any criminal antecedents, previous convictions, or in the case of habitual offenders; and also with respect to persons undergoing trial or remanded custody in more than one cases.
The superintendents of the jails concerned shall release the category of prisoners with respect to whom the interim bail is granted as mentioned above, on their furnishing a declaration showing their intended place of residence, with their telephone number and the telephone number of any of their family member or other relatives, and on executing a self bond, without sureties, ensuring that they will appear either before the court concerned or before the superintendent of jail as and when required.
The prisoners released on interim bail shall report to the local police station within their place of residence, immediately on reaching its jurisdiction. The jail authorities shall also give due intimation to such police stations with respect to release of the prisoners.
The declaration executed by the prisoners shall also contain an undertaking to the effect that they will strictly abide by the guidelines issued with respect to keeping of social distancing, in the wake of the declared lock down. They shall also undertake that they will remain in their declared place of residence, totally avoiding any type of travel or exposure to public.
The interim bail granted as above shall be limited upto April 30 or till the end of the lock down period by the government, whichever is earlier.
In case the lock down period is extended beyond April 30, the interim bail granted will continue till such extended period.
On expiry of the period of interim bail as mentioned above, released prisoners shall appear before the jurisdictional court within 3 days thereof. On such appearance, the court concerned shall consider application for bail and shall pass appropriate order, taking note of all circumstances and attendant factors.
The person released on interim bail as above shall be liable to be arrested and produced before the jurisdictional court, in case of violation of any of the conditions stipulated as above or in case they are found indulging in any activity endangering law and order or breach of public order and tranquility, or in any manner intimidating or influencing the witnesses.
Notably, directions have also been given to ensure that jurisdictional courts also function on a limited basis during the lockdown to take up bail applications. In this regard, the Bench said:
Necessary instructions have been issued by the Registry for dealing with such cases through e-filing and through video-conferencing. The sitting of the Division Bench in the High Court for considering such matters will continue during the period of lock down on the basis of those instructions.
For the purpose of considering bail applications of under-trial/remanded prisoners, who will not fall within the category for which interim bail is granted through this order, as well as for moving for statutory bail under Section 167 (2) Cr.P.C, the Sessions Judges in the state are hereby authorised to consider such bail applications submitted through e-mail and to dispose of such applications through Video-conferencing, after hearing the Advocate concerned as well as the public prosecutor.
The modalities with respect to consideration of such bail application and its disposal will be prescribed by the Registry and will be circulated through Office Memorandum to all the courts.
Instructions in this regard will also be uploaded on the website of the High Court.
The Principal Sessions Judge or any Additional Sessions Judge authorised in this behalf or to whom such bail applications are made over, shall deal with such bail applications in accordance with the above said directions and on the basis of the modalities which will be prescribed.
The Court today further clarified that the extension of interim orders granted by it last week would stand further extended to May 18, when the High Court would re-open after the mid-summer vacation.
The Bench added that parties aggrieved by the same may move for vacating such orders before the appropriate court.
[Read the order]