Role of Judiciary in Protecting the Rights of Prisoners
Judiciary in every country has an obligation and a Constitutional role to protect Human Rights of citizens. As per the mandate of the Constitution of India, this function is assigned to the superior judiciary namely the Supreme Court of India and High courts. The Supreme Court of India is perhaps one of the most active courts when it comes into the matter of protection of Human Rights. It has great reputation of independence and credibility. The independent judicial system stems from the notion of the separation of powers where the executive, legislature and judiciary form three branches of the government. This separation and consequent independence is key to the judiciary's effective in upholding the rule of law and human rights.
Since every society has a judicial system for the protection of its law-abiding members, it has to make provisions of prisons for the law breakers. But it doesn’t mean that the prisoners have no rights. The prisoners also have their rights. The Supreme Court of India, by interpreting Article 21 of the Constitution, has developed human rights jurisprudence for the preservation and protection of prisoner’s rights to maintain human dignity. Any violation of this right attracts the provisions of Article 14 of the Constitution, which enshrines right to equality and equal protection of law. In addition to this, the question of cruelty to prisoners is also dealt with, specifically by the Prison Act, 1894 and the Criminal Procedure Code (CRPC). Any excess committed on a prisoner by the police authorities not only attracts the attention of the legislature but also of the judiciary. The Indian judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, in the recent past, has been very vigilant against violations of the human rights of the prisoners. The Supreme Court and the High Courts have commented upon the deplorable conditions prevailing inside the prisons, resulting in violation of prisoner’s rights. Prisoners’ rights have become an important item in the agenda for prison reforms. The need for prison reforms has come into focus during the last three to four decades.
Prisoners and the Human Rights
The Supreme Court of India in the recent past has been very vigilant against encroachments upon the Human Rights of the prisoners. Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides that “No person shall be deprived of his life and Personal Liberty except according to procedure established by law”. The rights to life and Personal Liberty is the back bone of the Human Rights in India. Through its positive approach and Activism, the Indian judiciary has served as an institution for providing effective remedy against the violations of Human Rights. By giving a liberal and comprehensive meaning to “life and personal liberty,” the courts have formulated and have established plethora of rights. The court gave a very narrow and concrete meaning to the Fundamental Rights enshrined in Article 21. In A.K.Gopalan’s case, the court had taken the view that each Article dealt with separate rights and there was no relation with each other i.e. they were mutually exclusive. But this view has been held to be wrong in Maneka Gandhi case and held that they are not mutually exclusive but form a single scheme in the Constitution, that they are all parts of an integrated scheme in the Constitution. In the instant case, the court stated that “the ambit of Personal Liberty by Article 21 of the Constitution is wide and comprehensive. It embraces both substantive rights to Personal Liberty and the procedure prescribed for their deprivation” and also opined that the procedures prescribed by law must be fair, just and reasonable.
In the following cases namely Maneka Gandhi, Sunil Batra (I), M.H.Hoskot and Hussainara Khatoon, the Supreme Court has taken the view that the provisions of part III should be given widest possible interpretation. It has been held that right to legal aid, speedy trail, right to have interview with friend, relative and lawyer, protection to prisoners in jail from degrading, inhuman, and barbarous treatment, right to travel abroad, right live with human dignity, right to livelihood, etc. though specifically not mentioned are Fundamental Rights under Article 21 of the Constitution. Thus, the Supreme Court of India has considerably widened the scope of Article 21 and has held that its protection will be available for safeguarding the fundamental rights of the prisoners and for effecting prison reforms. The Supreme Court of India has developed Human Rights jurisprudence for the preservation and protection of prisoner’s Right to Human Dignity. The concern of the Apex judiciary is evident from the various cardinal judicial decisions. The decisions of the Supreme Court in Sunil Batra was a watershed in the development of prison jurisprudence in India.
Rights against Solitary Confinement and Bar Fetters
The courts have strong view against solitary confinement and held that imposition of solitary confinement is highly degrading and dehumanizing effect on the prisoners. The courts have taken the view that it could be imposed only in exceptional cases where the convict was of such a dangerous character that he must be segregated from the other prisoners. The Supreme Court in Sunil Batra (1) considered the validity of solitary confinement. The Supreme Court has also reacted strongly against putting bar fetters to the prisoners. The court observed that continuously keeping a prisoner in fetters day and night reduced the prisoner from human being to an animal and such treatment was so cruel and unusual that the use of bar fetters was against the spirit of the Constitution of India.
Rights against Inhuman Treatment of Prisoners
Human Rights are part and parcel of Human Dignity. The Supreme Court of India in various cases has taken a serious note of the inhuman treatment on prisoners and has issued appropriate directions to prison and police authorities for safeguarding the rights of the prisoners and persons in police lock–up. The Supreme Court read the right against torture into Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution. The court observed that “the treatment of a human being which offends human dignity, imposes avoidable torture and reduces the man to the level of a beast would certainly be arbitrary and can be questioned under Article 14”. In the Raghubir Singh v. State of Bihar, the Supreme Court expressed its anguish over police torture by upholding the life sentence awarded to a police officer responsible for the death of a suspect due to torture in a police lock – up. In Kishore Singh VS. State of Rajasthan the Supreme Court held that the use of third degree method by police is violative of Article 21.
The decision of the Supreme Court in the case of D.K. Basu is noteworthy. While dealing the case, the court specifically concentrated on the problem of custodial torture and issued a number of directions to eradicate this evil, for better protection and promotion of Human Rights. In the instant case the Supreme Court defined torture and analyzed its implications.
Right to have Interview with Friends, Relatives and Lawyers
The horizon of Human Rights is expanding. Prisoner’s rights have been recognized not only to protect them from physical discomfort or torture in person, but also to save them from mental torture. The Right to Life and Personal Liberty enshrined in Article 21 cannot be restricted to mere animal existence. It means something much more than just physical survival. The right to have interview with the members of one’s family and friends is clearly part of the Personal Liberty embodied in Article 21. Article 22 (I) of the Constitution directs that no person who is arrested shall be denied the right to consult and to be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice. This legal right is also available in the code of criminal procedure under section 30441. The court has held that from the time of arrest, this right accrues to the arrested person and he has the right of choice of a lawyer. In a series of cases the Supreme Court of India considered the scope of the right of the prisoners or detainees to have interviews with family members, friends and counsel. In Dharmbir vs. State of U.P the court directed the state Government to allow family members to visit the prisoners and for the prisoners, at least once a year, to visit their families, under guarded conditions.
In Hussainara Khatoon vs. Home Secretary, Bihar, the Supreme Court has held that it is the Constitutional right of every accused person who is unable to engage a lawyer and secure legal services on account of reasons such as poverty, indigence or incommunicado situation, to have free legal services provided to him by the state and the state is under Constitutional duty to provide a lawyer to such person if the needs of justice so require. If free legal services are not provided the trial itself may be vitiated as contravening the Article 21.
In Sheela Barse vs. State of Maharashtra, the court held that interviews of the prisoners become necessary as otherwise the correct information may not be collected but such access has got to be controlled and regulated. In Jogindar Kumar vs. State of U.P, the court opined that the horizon of Human Rights is expanding and at the same time, the crime rate is also increasing and the court has been receiving complaints about violation of Human Rights because of indiscriminate arrests. The court observed that there is the right to have someone informed.
Right to Speedy Trial
The speedy trial of offences is one of the basic objectives of the criminal justice delivery system. Once the cognizance of the accusation is taken by the court then the trial has to be conducted expeditiously so as to punish the guilty and to absolve the innocent. Everyone is presumed to be innocent until the guilty is proved. So, the quality or innocence of the accused has to be determined as quickly as possible. It is therefore, incumbent on the court to see that no guilty person escapes, it is still more its duty to see that justice is not delayed and the accused persons are not indefinitely harassed. It is pertinent to mention that “delay in trail by itself constitute denial of justice” which is said to be “justice delayed is justice denied”. It is absolutely necessary that the persons accused of offences should be speedily tried so that in cases where the bail is refused, the accused persons have not to remain in jail longer than is absolutely necessary. The right to speedy trial has become a universally recognized human right.
The main procedure for investigation and trial of an offence with regard to speedy trial is contained in the code of criminal procedure. The right to speedy trial is contained under section 309 of Cr.PC. If the provisions of Cr.PC are followed in their letter and spirit, then there would be no question of any grievance. But, these provisions are not properly implemented in their spirit. It is necessary that the Constitutional guarantee of speedy trial emanating from Article 21 should be properly reflected in the provisions of the code. For this purpose in A.R.Antulay vs. R.S.Nayak, the Supreme Court has laid down following propositions which will go a long way to protect the Human Rights of the prisoners. In the instant case the Apex Court held that the right to speedy trial flowing from Article 21 of the Constitution is available to accused at all stages like investigation, inquiry, trial, appeal, revision and retrial.
Right to Legal Aid
Though, the Constitution of India does not expressly provide the Right to Legal Aid, but the judiciary has shown its favour towards poor prisoners because of their poverty and are not in a position to engage the lawyer of their own choice. The 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 has included Free Legal Aid as one of the Directive Principles of State Policy under Article 39A in the Constitution. This is the most important and direct Article of the Constitution which speaks of Free Legal Aid. Though, this Article finds place in part-IV of the Constitution as one of the Directive Principle of State Policy and though this Article is not enforceable by courts, the principle laid down there in are fundamental in the governance of the country. Article 37 of the Constitution casts a duty on the state to apply these principles in making laws. While Article 38 imposes a duty on the state to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it many a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life. The parliament has enacted Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 under which legal Aid is guaranteed and various state governments had established legal Aid and Advice Board and framed schemes for Free Legal Aid and incidental matter to give effect to the Constitutional mandate of Article 39-A. Under the Indian Human Rights jurisprudence, Legal Aid is of wider amplitude and it is not only available in criminal cases but also in civil, revenue and administrative cases.
In Madhav Hayawadan Rao Hosket vs. State of Maharashtra, a three judges bench (V.R.Krishna Iyer, D.A.Desai and O.Chinnappa Reddy, JJ) of the Supreme Court reading Articles 21 and 39-A, along with Article 142 and section 304 of Cr.PC together declared that the Government was under duty to provide legal services to the accused persons.
Rights against Hand Cuffing
In Prem Shanker vs. Delhi Administration the Supreme Court added yet another projectile in its armoury to be used against the war for prison reform and prisoner’s rights. In the instant case the question raised was whether hand–cuffing is constitutionally valid or not? The Supreme Court discussed in depth the hand cuffing jurisprudence. It is the case placed before the court by way of Public Interest Litigation urging the court to pronounce upon the Constitution validity of the “hand cuffing culture” in the light of Article 21 of the Constitution. In the instant case, the court banned the routine hand cuffing of a prisoners as a Constitutional mandate and declared the distinction between classes of prisoner as obsolete. The court also opined that “hand cuffing is prima-facie inhuman and, therefore, unreasonable, is over harsh and at the first flush, arbitrary. Absent fair procedure and objective monitoring to inflict “irons” is to resort to Zoological strategies repugnant to Article 21 of the Constitution”.
Narco Analysis/Polygraph/Brain Mapping
In Selvi Vs State of Karnataka, (2010), the Supreme Court has declared Narcoanalysis, Polygraph test and Brain Mapping unconstitutional and violative of human rights. This decision is quite unfavourable to various investigation authorities as it will be a hindrance to furtherance of investigation and many alleged criminals will escape conviction with this new position. But the apex court further said that a person can only be subjected to such tests when he/she assents to them. The result of tests will not be admissible as evidence in the court but can only be used for furtherance of investigation. With advancement in technology coupled with neurology, Narcoanalysis, Polygraph test and Brain mapping emerged as favourite tools of investigation agencies around the world for eliciting truth from the accused. But eventually voices of dissent
were heard from human rights organizations and people subjected to such tests. They were labelled as atrocity to human mind and breach of right to privacy of an individual. The Supreme Court accepted that the tests in question are violative of Article 20 (3), which lays down that a person cannot be forced to give evidence against himself. Court also directed the investigation agencies that the directives by National Human Rights Commission should be adhered to strictly while conducting the tests. These tests were put to use in many cases previously, Arushi Talwar murder Case, Nithari killings Case, Abdul Telagi Case, Abu Salem Case, Pragya Thakur (Bomb blast Case) etc. being ones which generated lot of public interest.
To conclude, a review of the decisions of the Indian Judiciary regarding the protection of Human Rights of prisoners indicates that the judiciary has been playing a role of saviour in situations where the executive and legislature have failed to address the problems of the people. The Supreme Court has come forward to take corrective measures and provide necessary directions to the executive and legislature. From the perusal of the above contribution it is evident that the Indian Judiciary has been very sensitive and alive to the protection of the Human Rights of the people. It has, through judicial activism forged new tools and devised new remedies for the purpose of vindicating the most precious of the precious Human Right to Life and Personal Liberty.
1) Human Rights and Humanitarian law – Developments in India and International Law South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC)
2) Hand Book of Human Rights and Criminal Justice in India – Second Edition – SAHRDC
3) Law Relating to Protection of Human Rights under the Indian Constitution and Allied Laws by Justice Palok Basu
4) Human Rights and Justice System – Ashwan Kant Gautam
5) Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India – AIR 1978 SC 579
6) Francis Coralie Mullin vs. The Administrator Union Territory of Delhi, (1981) 1 SCC 608
7) Sunil Batra vs. Delhi Administration – AIR 1978 SC 1675
8) Charles Sobraj vs Suptd. Central Jail – AIR 1978 SC 1514
9) Rustom Cowvasjee Cooper vs. Union of India – AIR 1970 SC 1318
10) Sada Shiv Manohar Parkar vs. State of Maharastra – 1998 Crl. LJ. 3755
11) A.R.Antulay vs. R.S.Nayak – (1992) 1 SCC 225
12) State of A.P. vs. Challe Ramakrishna Reddy – (2000) 5 SCC 712
13) D.K.Basu vs. State of W.B – AIR 1997 SC 619
14) State of U.P vs. Deoman Upadhayaya – AIR 1960 SC 1125
15) Raja Narayanlal Bansilal vs. Maneck Phiroz Mistry – AIR 1961 SC 29
16) Danial H.Walcott vs. Supdt. Nagpur Central - (1972) 74 BOMLR 436
17) State of Gujarat vs. High Court of Gujarat – (1998) 7 SCC 392
18) Common Cause vs. Union of India – (1996) 4 SCC 33
19) Prem Shankar Shukla vs. Delhi Administration (1980) 3 SCC 526
20) Hussainara Khatoon vs. Home Secretary, State of Bihar – AIR 1979 SC 1369
21) Sheela Barse vs. State of Maharashtra, (1983) 2 SCC 96
22) R.D.Upadhyah vs. State of A.P. – AIR 2006 SC 1946
23) Hiralal Mallick vs. State of Bihar – AIR 1977 SC 2236
24) Sheela Barse vs. Union of India – AIR 1986 SC 1773
25) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
26) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
27) State of U.P. vs. V.Chandrik, 2000 Crl LJ 384 (386)
28) State of Gujarat vs. Natwar Harchenji Thakor – (2005) Crl LJ 2957
29) Selvi vs. State of Karnataka – (2010) 7 SCC 263
30) Law and Practice of Rights of Prisoners by Mr.A.Sirajudeen, Advocate
*Assistant Professor, Department of Law, Kurukshetra University,Kurukshetra, firstname.lastname@example.org
The author can be reached at: email@example.com