A criminal trial is a judicial examination of the issues in the case with the objective of rendering a decision on an issue as a fact or relevant facts that may lead to the discovery of the fact at issue and obtaining evidence of such facts that the prosecution and the accused have come to through their pleadings, with the accused's guilt or innocence serving as the deciding factor. Since the aim is to uphold justice, condemn the guilty, and protect the innocent, the trial should be an investigation into the truth that is conducted in accordance with standards that will safeguard the innocent and punish the guilty. The legal analysis of every piece of circumstantial and oral evidence, not just one particular item, is how the charge is made.
The legal review of all the oral and circumstantial evidence, not just a single piece, is how the charge must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The most important issue is that trials move quickly so that no one has to endure unnecessary suffering given how bad our country's jails are and how much worse it is to be imprisoned while awaiting trial than it is to live a life as a felon.
Who are Under-Trial Prisoners?
Unconvicted prisoners are known as under-trial prisoners. The accused is referred to as a "trial prisoner" in layman's terms while he is detained while the crime for which he was apprehended is under investigation, inquiry, or trial. In order to properly define the phrase, it must be understood in terms of the two components I Accused in Prison (ii) and (iii) the time from the arrest to the final moments of the criminal case.
Under-trial prisoners are generally those accused who have had their bail denied for a charge that is not subject to bail or those accused who have had their bail granted for such a charge that is subject to bail since it is their legal right but fail to provide the bail bond and sureties. It also covers the defendant who was granted bail for the non-bailable offence but did not comply with the necessary requirements set forth by the legal authorities.
Problems faced by Under-Trial Prisoners
In our nation, the number of convicts facing trial is rising quickly every hour. Even the rate of its growth is significantly higher than that of prisoners who are actually found guilty in court. Both the percentage of prisoners awaiting trial who have been jailed for more than a year and the length of time their cases are pending and being tried have increased dramatically. According to data and department reports, there were 3.28 lakh prisoners awaiting trials as of the end of 2019. By comparison, there were 1.42 lakh actual court-convicted prisoners, which is less than half the number of prisoners awaiting trials.
A significant problem in criminal trials is the increase in pending investigations. Currently, there are over 1.7 billion criminal cases (trial and appeal) that have been pending for more than a year. Of those, over 22 lakh cases have been pending for more than 10 years from the date they were first filed. The number of convicts awaiting trial is somewhat inversely correlated with the number of ongoing criminal cases. The supreme court made a stinging statement on undertrials in jails 40 years ago, calling them a "crying shame on the judicial system" since they often allow for lengthy imprisonment of individuals before a trial ever begins.
Under-trial convicts typically have no goals or desires left in them due to the disastrous conditions of the health and sanitary facilities, the absence of hygienic food, and discrimination and inequality among the prisoners based on their religion, financial standing, and other factors.
The rights provided to the under-trial prisoners
A fair trial implies that the accused and the prosecution should both be treated equally. Every criminal trial starts with the presumption of innocence in the accused's favour, and the Criminal Process Code's rules are written such that this crucial presumption should govern a criminal trial from the first. Unless his guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused is deemed innocent. The quick resolution of criminal cases is the factor that has gained relevance in modern times. The psychological and physical torments of detention worsen while the accused is in police custody and are maintained by any delay. The legislation calls for the swift resolution of every matter
2.Legal Aid and the Right to be defended by pleader
The adversary system of criminal aid that we have chosen anticipates that the state will use its investigative tools and hire a capable prosecutor to bring charges against the accused, who will then hire a similarly capable defence attorney to challenge the prosecution's evidence. Hence, the accused individual has the right to seek advice from and be represented by a lawyer of his choosing under both Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and Section 303 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Yet, the ability to have a lawyer of his choosing represent him would be useless if the accused due to his poverty or poor conditions has no means to engage a counsel for his defence.
3.Bail to under-trial prisoners
In other cases, convicts who were awaiting trial were kept behind bars for longer than the maximum sentence allowed for the accused offence. If the offender has spent half of the maximum period allowed for the offence for which death is not one of the specified punishments, section 436A of the Criminal Procedure Code allows for his release on bail with his own guarantee. In certain situations, the prosecution should also be heard, and after the court has recorded the reasons, it may order that the defendant be kept in custody for longer than the specified maximum sentence or release him.
It is a beneficial measure that allays the long-standing complaints of the convicts awaiting trial who are held in custody even longer than the maximum term allowed for the offence.
In a number of cases, the Supreme Court has mandated that defendants who have been imprisoned for an extended period of time without the opportunity for an early trial be released on bail, and even in situations where they have been held as under-trial prisoners for longer than the maximum term of imprisonment allowed for the offence, they must be immediately freed.
4.Bail under the default clause
An in order on default is an acceptable term to describe a section 167 order for release on bail. Actually, the prosecution's failure to file the charge sheet within the required time resulted in the release on bail. Under Section 167(2) proviso (a), the right to bail is unassailable. The accused in detention should be freed on bond if the investigating agency does not file a charge-sheet before the passing of 90 or 60 days, as the case may be. The defendant has no special justification for being released on bail. The bail granted under the proviso of section 167(2) may be revoked if the inquiry shows that the accused committed a significant offence and a charge sheet is submitted.
It is necessary to bring prison operations and facilities up to basic human standards. The following actions can be taken to achieve this:
1.Prisoner categorization: There should be a classification for the amount of time that each crime carries a sentence, and prisoners should be categorised in accordance with that. Without further delay, it should be made easier to provide a separate prison or detention facility for those awaiting trial.
2.Establishment of an autonomous body to review legal aid: Another requirement for keeping a defendant in custody should be the hiring of a legal aid attorney who will be accountable to the autonomous body (established to examine the management of legal aid attorneys) for the calibre of work produced. This will guarantee that certain minimum requirements are met in order to offset the disparity in knowledge levels.
3.Law reforms related to bail: The bail system should be updated and carried out at affordable prices, i.e., the creation of a system of bail amount "slabs" based on the accused's income level (a la the taxation laws in the nation). Additionally, a larger range of offences could be covered by the recognition of personal relationships. The failure to appear on a personal bond might be transformed into an offence in order to allay concerns that the accused would flee the scene of the crime. Only when non-discrimination based on economic position is included in Article 15 of the Indian Constitution can the same be protected.
4.Enforcement of Sections 436 and 436A of the CrPC: Without further postponement, undertrial prisoners must be released in accordance with Sections 436 and 436A of the Cr.P.C. This is based on the prompt and strict application of the Supreme Court's rule that all defendants who have completed half of their sentence will be released if they are found guilty of the crime for which they are being held in custody.
5.Rehabilitating undertrials after release: The State should then plan a strategy to put under trials back on their feet following release. There should be a plan in place for persons who are being held without a trial but turn out to be innocent to receive financial compensation.
6.Increasing the judge-population ratio to the levels recommended by numerous committees is the last but most important move. The issue of judicial appointments is currently being discussed nationally. The larger issue of undertrials can be resolved by the appointment of more judges at the local level through judicial services examinations, so it is crucial to encourage those in the legal profession to do the same, barring a deadlock between the discretion of the judicial collegium and final confirmation by the government machinery.