A man in India was kept in jail for an extra three years because prison authorities failed to open a bail order sent as an email attachment.
Identified as Chandanji Thakor, the inmate was serving life imprisonment in a murder case but had his conviction suspended by the Gujarat High Court, which issued an order granting him bail.
Covid restrictions at the time of the order in September 2020, when much of India was just coming out of a months-long lockdown, meant it was sent by the court registry via email.
But it has now emerged that the jail authorities failed to “notice” the attached bail order either at that time or when the court again attempted to follow up on the case a few months later in December.
Calling the case “an eye opener”, the Gujarat High Court slammed the prison authorities for a “serious lapse” on their part and for not abiding by the court’s order issued three years ago and awarded Thakor be paid compensation of Rs 100,000 (£988) within two weeks.
“The applicant, though he was [ordered] released and could have enjoyed his freedom, was forced to remain in jail only because no attention was paid by the jail authorities to contact the Registry or Sessions Court with regard to the order passed by this Court,” judges said on 22 September.
“Thus, there is a serious lapse on the part of the jail authorities.”
The judges said the Gujarat High Court registry sent a second email in December that went to the Sessions Court of Mehsana and Ahmedabad Central Jail, informing them that Thakor had successfully provided the required bond of Rs 20,000 (£200) and should be released.
“However, due to Covid-19 pandemic, the said e-mail was not noticed by the jail authority and the order passed by this court was not implemented,” said the court order, accessed by Indian legal news outlet Bar and Bench.
According to the Supreme Court of India, a defendant should be released within seven days from the date of bail being granted. It is the duty of the jail’s superintent to inform the district legal service authorities who can then arrange for necessary legal assistance to help in the release.
However in Thakor’s case the court found his lawyer was at no point informed that he was eligible for release.
The 27-year-old was finally freed from prison last week on 21 September, a day before the court was scheduled to hear his fresh application seeking regular bail.
In addition to ordering Thakor be paid compensation, the court also directed the district legal service authorities (DLSA) to collect data of all prisoners who may have been granted bail but not released, in case similar cases are found.
“The DLSA shall collect the reasons for their not having been released either for want of surety or non-execution of the jail bonds or for any other reason,” said the bench of justices AS Supehia and MR Mengdey, while listing the matter to be heard again on 18 October, reported Bar and Bench.