Kerala High Court extends stay on direction requiring on-parole prisoners to return to prisons amid COVID-19

Kerala High Court
The Hindu

Synopsis: The Court stressed that any decision in this regard could be taken only after the High Powered Committee had been properly discussed in accordance with the directions of the Supreme Court as of March.

Today, the Kerala High Court extended its interim order to retain a direction from the State Government ordering on-parole prisoners to return to their jails in November.

The prisoners were released following the directions issued earlier this year by the Supreme Court for prison decongestion in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Court expressed its satisfaction at the hearing with the steps already in place to accommodate the returning prisoners.

However, Justice VG Arun also took note of the submission of Senior Government Pleader Suman Chakravarthy that the recommendations of the High Powered Committee had not been implemented prior to issuance of instructions for the return of on-parole prisoners, even though the Committee had been formed.

covid-19

The petitioners’ counsel urged the Court that the direction of the Supreme Court had ordered that a High Powered Committee set up by the State Government should take decisions on the grant of temporary bail/parole to prisoners.

The Court has now directed the State Government, following due discussion with the High Powered Committee, to act on the direction of the Supreme Court and to take decisions on this subject.

With this, the matter is been posed for 30th November.

The interim order of the Court states that, having carefully examined the statements submitted by the Joint Secretary, it finds that while an HPC was formed in Suo Motu petition on 1/2020 in accordance with the directions of the Apex Court, the required consultation and recommendation of the High Powered Committee was not obtained while issuing the challenged orders. Therefore in terms of the release of convicts on parole and interim bail, the Government must necessarily act according to the directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Requirements must be rendered within a period of one week post 30/11/2020.

During a previous hearing, Justice Arun had asked a question about the various measures taken place by the state government to ensure the welfare of the returning prisoners.

Four appeals moved by on-parole inmates were heard by the High Court challenging the state government’s directives forcing those categories of prisoners to go out on parole during the month of November to report to jail.

The Government orders under appeal were alleged to be in violation of the Supreme Court’s statement of 23rd March, whereby the High Court ordered all States to consider releasing prisoners facing sentences of up to seven years in order to decongest prisons in the wake of a pandemic.

A high-powered committee comprising the Principal Secretary of the Home Department, the Chairman of the State Legal Services Authority and the Director General of Prisons was set up by the Chief Justice-led Bench of the Supreme Court to take different measures for de-congesting prisons.

The High Court was urged to set aside the Kerala government order, considering that the decision to recall those groups of prisoners back to prisons was taken without a reference to the High Powered Committee.