The Supreme Court has emphasized that the extended imprisonment of undertrial prisoners goes against the constitutional principles of dignity and liberty.
This observation came about as the Court eased a bail condition imposed on a Nigerian accused in an NDPS case. Justices Hrishikesh Roy and Pankaj Mithal underscored that the Court should be concerned about the freedom of an accused undergoing a prolonged trial.
In this specific case, one of the bail conditions required the Special Court to obtain an assurance certificate from the High Commission of Nigeria, New Delhi.
This certificate would ensure that the accused wouldn’t leave the country until the trial’s conclusion and would appear before the Special Court on all scheduled dates unless exempted under exceptional circumstances. Without this certificate, the accused couldn’t be granted bail.
The accused-appellant challenged this condition, arguing that the High Commission of Nigeria was unlikely to issue such a certificate, which was causing significant prejudice against him. The Court recognized that the trial had spanned seven years, during which only thirteen out of twenty witnesses had been examined.
Referring to past judgments, the Court highlighted the right to a speedy trial guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution. It emphasized that the procedure leading to the deprivation of personal liberty should be reasonable, fair, and just.
The Court also cited its recent ruling in Mohd. Muslim v. State (NCT of Delhi) 2023, which supported this notion.As a result, the Supreme Court concluded that even without satisfying the challenging condition, the appellant could still be considered for bail. This appellant had been in custody since June 2, 2014. The case serves as a reminder of the Court’s dedication to upholding the fundamental principles of dignity and liberty, especially concerning extended undertrial incarceration.
Relevant Legal Provisions:
Article 21 of the Constitution of India: This constitutional provision guarantees the right to life and personal liberty, encompassing the right to a speedy trial and protection against arbitrary detention.
Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985: This legislation pertains to the control and regulation of operations relating to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. It prescribes stringent measures against the illicit trafficking and abuse of such substances.
Case title: Ejike Jonas Orji vs Narcotics Control Bureau, 2023