All Inmates Can Consult Private Lawyers Via Video Conferencing Facility: Prison Authorities Inform Delhi High Court

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A Delhi prison authority informed the Delhi High Court about the issued circular. The inmates in all jails can avail of a video conferencing facility. It would be effective for legal consultation and interview. (Sarthak Maggon vs UOI and Ajit P Singh vs State)

Facts of the Case

The court was hearing two separate PILs moved by two lawyers that are Sarthak Maggon and Ajit P Singh. The PIL by Sarthak Maggon was filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. This sought appropriate writ/directions of this Hon’ble Court against the Respondents. Moreover, this also challenged the March 25 notification of the prisons’ authority. The prison authority suspended legal interviews and family visits in jail. The same came in view of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Additional Standing Counsel for Delhi Government, Advocate Satyakam informed the Court. He says that on 6th July, the competent Jail Authority had issued a circular for the latest facility. It provides video conferencing to all inmates to consult their lawyers. This facility was earlier available only for few consulting legal aid lawyers. But, by the July 6th circular, the inmates can consult their private lawyers too.

Contentions

Adv. Lav Kumar Agrawal for Petitioner Adv. Ajit P Singh stated that the Circular isn’t issued with the regulation of Law. It seeks direction to allow Advocates for virtual meetings even without a vakalatnama. This was in the case Ajit P Singh vs State.

The petitioners stated that the conversation between inmate and lawyer is sensitive. Hence, no jail official should be within the hearing range of the video conferencing. Vikas Pahwa, advocate appearing for Maggon had alleged that the circular lacks clarity. It should mention the exact time required to approve the request. It should also provide the details of allotment of the slot for video conferencing. He said that the time of allotment must be within 48 hours.

Suggestions 

A few suggestions are given in the Sarthak Maggon vs UOI. It is to prevent arbitrary discretion on the nodal authority to accept or reject legal meetings ( mulakats ). As this would be counterproductive to the recognition of legal mulakats as a right.

  • The private counsels sending e-mail applications should be undertaken by the Jails Superintendent.
  • Superintendent must take a prompt decision to allow/ decline requests. It is on the merit/ verification of vakalatnama, and identity of the applicant.
  • After investigation, a video conferencing slot gets fixed for an early possible date. The same will be intimated to the concerned at least one day in advance.
  • Each Legal interview through video conferencing would be for a fixed time of half an hour. It is subject to the limit of two interviews in a week.
  • The advocates would receive the acceptance link for video conferencing via mail. They can establish a link for video conferencing on the e-mails provided.
  • The video conferencing is acceptable on First Come, First Serve.
  • The legal interview will begin in the presence of Deputy/ Assistant Superintendent. The authority must remain out of the hearing range.
  • Any misuse of video conferencing will lead to the withdrawal of extended facilities.

Court’s Observation 

A Division Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan was setup. The court claimed that the prison authorities restricted legal interviews to save the lives of inmates. It further stated that the March 25 notification turns void with the issuance of July 6th circular. The Court informed that a specific time slot of 30 minutes shall be given to each inmate. This link would be shared with the lawyer concerned.

Also, the Jail Superintendent shall remain present during the virtual legal interview. But, he shall be outside the hearing range to maintain the confidentiality of the conversation. It also included the suggestions made by Petitioner, Advocate Sarthak Maggon through Senior Advocates Vikas Pahwa, Arvind Nayar. The suggestions might get approved by the Jail Authorities for bringing amendments to the Circular. The court said that,

“Government should be given free movement in the joints…These are experimental solutions. Give it a couple of days.”

Court’s Decision

The Court remarked to dispose off the petitions without any further directions. They clarified that the Petitioners are free to approach the Court in any grievances.


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