Legal aid for poor should not become poor legal aidSC directions for prison reforms

The Supreme Court has issued a slew of directions to improve the conditions of prisons and prisoners in the country.

These directions were issued in the PIL registered by the Supreme Court in 2013 subsequent to a letter by former Chief Justice of India, RC Lahoti. In his letter, Justice Lahoti highlighted the abysmal state of affairs in 1382 prisons in India. When the case was last heard, the Bench had sought clarification from the Central Government on the various issues including establishment of an under-trial review committee in every district, setting up of a software for prison management and preparation of a model prison manual.

In today’s order, which was given by a Division Bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and RK Agarwal, the Court noted that prisoners, like all human beings, deserve to be treated with dignity. It proceeded to issue eight directions to ensure better conditions for prisoners.

The directions have stressed on the need to release undertrial prisoners by securing proper legal aid for them. The court has also directed that the police officers in charge of prisons should utilize the funds allocated to them properly so that living conditions of prisoners is commensurate with human dignity and issues of health, hygiene, food, clothing, rehabilitation etc. of prisoners are addressed properly.

The following are the eight directions issued by the Court:

  1. The Under Trial Review Committee in every district should meet every quarter and the first such meeting should take place on or before 31st March, 2016. The Secretary of the District Legal Services Committee should attend each meeting of the Under Trial Review Committee and follow up the discussions with appropriate steps for the release of undertrial prisoners and convicts who have undergone their sentence or are entitled to release because of remission granted to them.
  2. The Under Trial Review Committee should specifically look into aspects pertaining to effective implementation of Section 436 of the Cr.P.C. and Section 436A of the Cr.P.C. so that undertrial prisoners are released at the earliest and those who cannot furnish bail bonds due to their poverty are not subjected to incarceration only for that reason. The Under Trial Review Committee will also look into issue of implementation of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 particularly with regard to first time offenders so that they have a chance of being restored and rehabilitated in society.
  3. The Member Secretary of the State Legal Services Authority of every State will ensure, in coordination with the Secretary of the District Legal Services Committee in every district, that an adequate number of competent lawyers are empanelled to assist undertrial prisoners and convicts, particularly the poor and indigent, and that legal aid for the poor does not become poor legal aid.
  4. The Secretary of the District Legal Services Committee will also look into the issue of the release of undertrial prisoners in compoundable offences, the effort being to effectively explore the possibility of compounding offences rather than requiring a trial to take place.
  5. The Director General of Police/Inspector General of Police in-charge of prisons should ensure that there is proper and effective utilization of available funds so that the living conditions of the prisoners is commensurate with human dignity. This also includes the issue of their health, hygiene, food, clothing, rehabilitation etc.
  6. The Ministry of Home Affairs will ensure that the Management Information System is in place at the earliest in all the Central and District Jails as well as jails for women so that there is better and effective management of the prison and prisoners.
  7. The Ministry of Home Affairs will conduct an annual review of the implementation of the Model Prison Manual 2016 for which considerable efforts have been made not only by senior officers of the Ministry of Home Affairs but also persons from civil society. The Model Prison Manual 2016 should not be reduced to yet another document that might be reviewed only decades later, if at all. The annual review will also take into consideration the need, if any, of making changes therein.
  8. The Under Trial Review Committee will also look into the issues raised in the Model Prison Manual 2016 including regular jail visits as suggested in the said Manual.

The Court has concluded the judgment by waxing eloquent about the Model Prison Manual and the need for its implementation with due seriousness.

“A word about the Model Prison Manual is necessary. It is a detailed document consisting of as many as 32 chapters that deal with a variety of issues including custodial management, medical care, education of prisoners, vocational training and skill development programmes, legal aid, welfare of prisoners, after care and rehabilitation, Board of Visitors, prison computerization and so on and so forth. It is a composite document that needs to be implemented with due seriousness and dispatch.”

Additionally, Court has directed that a similar manual should be prepared in respect of juveniles and has issued notice to the Ministry of Women and Child Development for the same.

Read the full order here.

Image taken from here.