SC orders to release of the convict in jail for 26 years, stating it would be cruel to redirect him again before the Advisory Board for premature release

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While hearing the Joseph vs. The State of Kerala & Ors. case on September 21, 2023, the Supreme Court (SC) of India ordered to release of the convict who had spent 26 years in prison for robbing and murdering a woman. The convict, 65-year-old Joseph, was in Kerala jail since 1998. While ordering the convict’s release, the top Court pointed out that “...the 1958 Rules are clear – a life sentence, is deemed to be 20 years of incarceration. After this, the prisoner is entitled to premature release. The guidelines issued by the NHRC pointed out to us by the counsel for the petitioner, are also relevant to consider – that of mandating release, after serving 25 years as sentence (even in heinous crimes). At this juncture, redirecting the petitioner who has already undergone over 26 years of incarceration (and over 35 years of punishment with remission), before us to undergo, yet again, consideration before the Advisory Board, and thereafter, the state government for premature release – would be a cruel outcome, like being granted only a salve to fight a raging fire, in the name of the procedure. The grand vision of the rule of law and the idea of fairness is then swept away, at the altar of procedure - which this court has repeatedly held to be a “handmaiden of justice.”  

During the court proceedings, the bench heard the arguments of both parties and pronounced the operative part of the judgment, “Excluding the relief of premature release to prisoners who have served extremely long periods of incarceration not only crushes their spirit and instills despair but signifies society’s resolve to be harsh and unforgiving. The idea of rewarding the prisoner for good conduct is entirely negated.” The bench including Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice S. Ravindra Bhat stated that the denial of the convict’s premature release violated fundamental rights under Article 14 and Article 21, the Right to Equality, and the Right to Life respectively. The SC said “Regardless of the morality of continued punishment, one may question its rationality. The question is, what is achieved by continuing to punish a person who recognizes the wrongness of what they have done, no longer identifies with it, and bears little resemblance to the person they were years earlier.” 

The SC bench further added, “The insistence of guidelines obdurately, not to look beyond the red lines drawn by it, and the continued denial to consider the impact of prison good behavior and other relevant factors to ensure that such individual has been rid of the likelihood of causing harm, results in violation of Article 14.” The top Court ordered, “in the interest of justice, this court is of the opinion, that it would be appropriate to direct the release of the petitioner, with immediate effect.” 

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