Undertrial prisoners cannot be placed in custody for indefinite periods of time when a speedy trial does not appear to be a possibility, the Delhi High Court has observed, The Indian Express reported on Thursday.

Justice Amit Mahajan made the remark while hearing a bail petition of a man who had been in jail for about two years in an alleged case of cheating. The judge granted him bail, but made it clear that the order should not affect the merits of the case.

The court observed that the maximum punishment for the offences that the accused man was facing was seven years’ imprisonment. It said that he could not be in jail for the entire period of the trial, particularly when the process was likely to take a considerable amount of time.

Justice Mahajan also noted that the man has two children aged six years and 11 months. He said that the prosecution’s contention that the accused person may abscond was “only a bald assertion”.

The court held that keeping the man in custody would deprive him of his right to legal defence.

“It is also significant that the co-accused persons, who had a similar role, have already been admitted on bail,” the court said, according to The Indian Express. “The state has not challenged the orders granting bail to the co-accused persons. Once the majority of the co-accused are out on bail, it cannot be argued that it is only the applicant against whom there is an apprehension that he will tamper with the evidence and influence the witnesses.”

The judge, while granting bail to the man, directed him to furnish a bail bond of Rs 50,000 and a surety of the same amount.

The prosecution has alleged that the accused persons in the case dishonestly induced the complainant to deposit Rs 39 lakh into a bank account for “receiving the insurance policy bonus amount and the insurance gratuity value on the lapsed insurance policies from 2013 onwards”.