Remission or premature release of convicts: The injustice of exceptionalism

Source: The post is based on the article “The injustice of exceptionalism” published in The Hindu on 20th August 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Criminal Justice System.

Relevance: Remission or premature release of convicts.

News: Recently, the Gujarat government released 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano murder and gang rape case of 2002 under its remission and premature release policy. 

What did the government release them?

Most States, including Gujarat, adopted a revised remission policy for prisoners which makes the person convicted of rape ineligible for premature release. But the Supreme Court of India has ruled that the remission would be governed by the remission policy that was in force at the time of conviction.

Read here: Explained: Why the 11 convicts in Bilkis Bano gangrape case walked out of jail
How does behaviour aid in the remission or premature release of convicts?

Prison is a state subject. State governments have laid down behaviour/activities that can earn prisoners a certain amount of days as remission, which is then deducted from their sentence.

For example, if a prisoner earns two years in remission and a court has sentenced them to 10 years, they can leave prison effectively after eight years.

This system is enshrined in the Prisons Act, 1894, and also rules developed by different States.

Remission for life sentence: The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) mentions that life convicts have to undergo a minimum of 14 years of actual imprisonment before they can be considered for remission/premature release.

Premature release rules: State governments have also developed premature release rules that include the power to give effect to the Governor’s powers of remission under Article 161 of the Constitution.

Those powers are not governed by the CrPC and are often used to bypass the minimum 14 years of actual imprisonment requirement in the CrPC.

The Supreme Court has recognised remission as an inherent part of a prisoner’s right to life. Hence, remission is a right and not a privilege extended to the convict by the state.

Read more: The Issue of Marital Rape – Explained, pointwise
What are the concerns associated with the recent remission or premature release of convicts?

Many persons convicted for the same offence after the revised remission policy are ineligible for remission, a different set of governance considerations has been applied to these 11 individuals.

The executive and the judiciary moving towards harsher sentences for those convicted of sexual offences. Rape survivors face many challenges while filing criminal complaints and navigating the justice system.

Further, a victim from caste and the religious minority has to face even more challenges when she is filing complaints against upper caste offenders.

Hence, the recent remission is exceptionalism and this exceptionalism is a grave injustice to the insurmountable difficulties endured by Bilkis Bano to pursue justice

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