India’s top court orders release of inmates

New Delhi -

India's Supreme Court on Friday ordered the country's notoriously overcrowded jails to free all inmates who have served half their maximum term without trial, in a landmark ruling with implications for hundreds of thousands of prisoners.

Indian prisoners are seen inside a cell at Tihar Prison in New Delhi. File picture: Manpreet Romana. Credit: AFP

More than two-thirds of India's nearly four million prisoners are awaiting trial, according to Amnesty International, and many have already spent years in prison.

Indian law states that prisoners awaiting trial must be released once they have served half the maximum sentence they would receive if found guilty, but that law is rarely implemented.

On Friday the country's Chief Justice R M Lodha said prisons across the country must comply with the law, and ordered local judges and magistrates to oversee the process.

“Judicial officers shall identify prisoners who have completed half of the maximum period of imprisonment provided for offences they are charged with,” he said.

“After completing the procedure they should pass appropriate orders in the jail itself for the release of undertrial prisoners.” - Sapa-AFP