Prisoners Rights: Some Landmark Judgements
The past decade has witnessed an increasing consciousness about the desirability of prison reforms, It is now being recognized that a reformative philosophy and a rehabilitative strategy must form a part of prison justice. The ro!e of the Supreme Court in the past five years in introducing jail reforms has been commendable. Its quest for prison justice is probably a result of its attempt to revive liberty after extinguishing it in the Habeas Corpus case. In fact, the Supreme Court had commented in that case during the emergency that the treatment meted out to the detainees was almost mater-nal. The Supreme Court carried the ratio of the habeas Corpus case (ADM Jabalpur Vs. Shiv Kant Shukla) that Article 21 is the sole repository of life and liberty and during the emergency when liberty is suspended, due to the Presidential proclamation suspending Article 21, to the Prison conditions, and held in Bhanudas's case that a detainee during emergency could not agitate for better Jail Conditions and facilities. Maneka Gandhi's case was a landmark in Indian jurisprudence. The Maneka principle was extended to prison conditions and particularly to the plight of under-trials. A series of news items appeared in "The Indian Express" about the continued incarceration of under-trials in Bihar Jails. Some of them were never produced before the courts. Some others had spent more time in jails as under-trials than the maximum penalty that could be imposed upon them if they were convicted of the offences they were charged with. The Supreme Court in the Writs of Habeas Corpus for under-trials stated that "The information contained in these newspaper cuttings is most distressing and it is sufficient to stir the conscience and disturb the equanimity of any socially motivated lawyer or judge. Some of the undertrial prisoners whose names are given in the newspaper cuttings have been in jail for as many as 5, 7, or 9 years and a few of them for even more than 10 years without their trial being begun. What faith can these lost souls have in a judicial system which denies them a bare trial for so many years, and keeps them behind bars, not because they are guilty, but because they are too poor to afford bail and the courts have no time to try them. There can be little doubt after the dynamic interpretations placed by this court on Article 21 in Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India that a procedure which keeps such large number, of people behind bars without trial so long cannot possibly be regarded as reasonable, just or fair so as to be in conflict with the requirement of the Article." It was with these observations that the Supreme Court directed the Bihar Government and the Patna High Court to furnish to the Supreme Court details of criminal cases pending in Bihar and their year wise breakup. The Supreme Court thereafter directed the release of such under-trials who were in detention for a unduly long period. The Supreme Court again in a separate writ petition filed by Sunil Batra and Charles Sobharaj, two priso-ners in Delhi's Tihar jail, made an effort to humanize jail conditions. The question before the Court was: "Does a prison setting, ipso facto, outlaw the rule of law, lock out the judicial process from the jail gates and declare a long holiday for human rights of con-victs in confinement ? And if there is no total eclipse what luscent segment is open for judicial justice? Sunil Batra, sentenced to death had challenged his incarcera-tion in solitary confinement and Charles Sobhraj had challenged his confinement with bar-fetters. The Supreme Court held that there is no total deprivation of a prisoner's rights of life and liberty. The "safe keeping" in jail custody is the limited juris-diction of the jailer. "To desort safe-keeping into a hidden opportunity to care the ward and to traumatize him is to betray the custodian of law, safe custody does not mean deprivations, violation, banishment from the...
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