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SC orders release of mentally challenged undertrials
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, October 24
Taking note of a large number of mentally retarded undertrials languishing in jails or referred to mental asylums across the country, the Supreme Court today ordered the closure of cases against all those who had remained in judicial custody for more than the period of sentence prescribed for the offences committed by them.

While ordering the immediate release of all such prisoners, a Bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan also said the mentally retarded prisoners who faced serious offences like murder warranting award of life sentence or death penalty and were in mental asylums for more than five years, be released on bail.

Those mental patients facing serious offences of death and life sentences but were in the custody for less then five years, the trial courts concerned were asked to seek reports from the medical officers of the mental asylums to find out whether they were fit to face the trial or not. If they were found to be medically fit to face trial after their treatment, it should be expedited in their cases, the court said while sending its order to every high court in the country to get it implemented within two months.

The registrars general of each high court were directed to submit a report after two months to enable the apex court to pass further direction to lay down guidelines for the periodic examination of mentally retarded undertrial prisoners to ensure that no person was allowed to languish there without being noticed by the trial courts.

The court passed the order after it had got reports of the total number of such prisoners from all states and the compilation showed that 375 mentally retarded undertrials were languishing in the jails for a period ranging five years and 15 years while the maximum sentence for the offences committed by them was less then that.

The court had sought the data from the states after a shocking case of Machal Lalung in Assam came to light in 2005 when he was found by some NGO to be languishing in jail for the past 54 years without trial in a murder case.

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