PRISONER RIGHTS: INDIAN CONSTITUTIONAL PERSPECTIVE
“Conviction for crime does not reduce the person into a non person, whose rights are subject to the whim of the prison administration and therefore, the imposition of any major punishment within the prison system is conditional upon the absence of procedural safeguards”.
The fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution are not absolute and many restrictions have imposed on their enjoyment. Right to freedom of person is one of the most important rights among the fundamental rights. When a person is convicted or put in the prison his status is different from that of an ordinary person. A prisoner cannot claim all fundamental rights that are available to the ordinary person. However, certain rights which have been enumerated under Part III of the Indian Constitution are available to the prisoners also because a “Prisoner remains a ‘Person’ inside the prison”. The right to personal liberty has been given wider interpretation by the Supreme Court and this right is available not only to the free people but even to those behind the bars. The prisoners are entitled to claim the residuary fundamental rights even when they are imprisoned in the jail. Thus a prisoner is entitled to have rights such as
1. Right to live with human dignity
2. Right to have fair trial
3. Right to have Speedy trial
4. Right to Bail
5. Right to have Parole
6. Right to have medical and health facilities
7. Right to free legal aid
8. Right to consult lawyers
9. Rights of inmates of protective homes
10. Right against cruel and unusual punishment
11. Right to have reasonable wages in prison
12. Right against bar fetters, handcuffing and protection from torture.
“Prisons are built with stones of law”- when Human rights are harassed behind the bars constitutional justice come forward to uphold the law-William Black
A prisoner does not lose all rights when being imprisoned. They lose only the part of rights which are necessary consequences of the confinement and the rest of the rights are preserved. A prisoner is a person who is deprived of liberty while being in a confinement. The rights of prisoner are governed by national and international law. International convention include International covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966. It provides that “Every prisoner who is detained, including every sentenced prisoner has right to live with human dignity including least exercise and provision, at State as well as national expenses of adequate accommodation, nutrition, reading materials and medical treatment. The binding principle at International level is that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of human person”. In general, the prisoners will not be tortured nor subject to cruelty, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. According to Article 10 the United Nations committee on International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the state party must have positive obligations towards all people who are deprived of their liberty to be treated with humanity and with dignity while dealing with the prisoners.
It is a well established fact that conviction or death punishment to prisoner for a crime does not reduce a person into non-person, so he is entitled to basic rights which are available to him inside the prison. Different court through different interpretations had widened the scope of prisoner’s rights and held that prisoner is a human being as well as natural person. Being a prisoner he or she does not ceases to be a human being and natural person.
*Right to fair procedure- The “embryo” or the traces of prisoner’s right in India can be find in the most celebrated decision of A.K Gopalan v. State of Madras, it was held that when a prisoner is totally deprived of his personal liberty under the procedure that has been established by the law, the fundamental rights including right to freedom of movement are not available but a prisoner cannot be denied to have the basic fundamental rights. Another most important case was the State of Maharashtra v. Prabhakar Padurang, in this case it was held that the conditions of detention cannot be extended to the deprivation of fundamental rights consistent with the facts of detention.
*Right to life and Personal Liberty –
“By the term “life” means more than mere animal existence. The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all those limbs and faculties by which life is enjoyed. The provision equally prohibits the mutilation of the body by the amputation of an arm or leg, or the putting out of an eye, or the destruction of any organ of the body through which soul communicates with the outer world”– Field J.
The Honourable Supreme Court of India has adopted the annotation of Article 21 and expanded the concept of life given by Field J that “life means more than mere physical existence”. Right to life is not restricted to mere animal existence. It means more than just physical survival.
*Right to live with Human Dignity- In the new and wider interpretations of Article 21 of Indian constitution the Honourable Supreme Court of India held that “Right to live” does not mean the confinement to physical existence but it includes within the ambit the right to live with Human dignity. While expanding and widening the ambit of Article 21, the Supreme Court of India held that the word “life” may include all those things which are the bare necessities of life such as food, shelter, clothing and adequate nutrition. The Supreme Court also extended the concept of life and held that “Life” is not limited to “death” but, when a person is executed with death penalty and doctor gave the death certificate and dead body was not lowered down for half an hour after the certificate of death, is thus violation of Right to life under Article 21 of Indian Constitution. It is thus only because of wider interpretation of Article 21 which has guaranteed every human being outside or behind the bars certain basic rights and not even the State has the authority to violate those rights. A prisoner does not cease to be a human being even when he or she is lodged in a jail, prisoner still continues to enjoy certain basic fundamental rights including right to life. There have been debates over the topic that convicts are not wholly devoid of their fundamental rights. “However a prisoner liberty is in the very nature of things circumscribed by the very fact of his or her confinement. His interest in the limited liberty left to him is the more substantial”.
*Right to Communication- A Momentous Right- Communication is an essential feature for human being for a reasonable being. The prisoners are also having a right to communicate with the outside world, essentially through the use of mails and conversation with various subject to the matters of discipline. Jawarhar Lal Nehru has explained the difficulties faced by the prisoner for interviews and writing letter. Originally the prison authorities were reluctant to grant this right. Even writing of letters and prison interviews were at the mercy of the prison staff.
*Right to Health and medical Treatment- Right to health and care is an essential ingredient of Article 21 of the Indian constitution. Article 21 casts an obligation over the state to provide health and medical facilities to all human beings. Every doctor has an obligation to preserve the life of others and state cannot interfere to delay and avoid the discharge the services extended by medical profession. Denial of government hospital to provide medical facilities to an injured person is a violation of “right to life” under Article 21 of the Indian constitution. “Preservation of human life whether it is outside or inside the prison is of paramount importance”. The right to health and medical treatment is a basic human right. The Gujarat High Court held that the jail authorities are under the obligation to take care of ailing convicts and it is the duty of the jail authorities to provide them the medical facilities and take them to the hospitals for medical treatment.
*Right to Speedy Trial – Speedy trial is a part of fundamental right inserted under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Delay in disposal of cases is denial of justice so every court is expected to adopt and take necessary steps for expeditious trial and quick disposal of cases. The court held that right to speedy trial is available to all accused at all the stages, namely the stage of investigation, inquiry, trial, appeal, revision and retrial. The court further said that the accused cannot be denied the speedy trial on the ground that he had failed to demand a speedy trial.
“Justice Delayed is Justice Denied” ‘if the stream of justice dries there would be discontent, disharmony and chaos in the society as that stream does not fulfil the thirst of person for justice”
*Right to free Legal aid- A substantial or we can say a major part of prison population in the country consists of under trials and those inmates whose trial is yet to commence. Thus right to free legal aid is an essential mandate of Article 21 of Indian constitution. The Supreme Court held that free legal aid and assistance at state cost is a fundamental right of a person accused of offence which may involve jeopardy to his life and personal liberty. Neither the state government nor any government can deny, providing the concept of free legal aid and assistance to the accused and the state government is under constitutional mandate to provide legal assistance to a poor accused by pleading financial or administrative inability.
Regarding this right of free legal aid, Justice Krishna Iyer said that “This is the state’s duty and not government’s charity”. If a prisoner is unable to exercise his constitutional right to appeal including Special Leave to appeal for want of legal assistance, the court will grant him such rights under Article 142, read with Article 21 and 39 A of the constitution. The power to appoint or assign counsel to the prisoner does not object to the lawyer named by the court. On the other hand implication of free legal aid and assistance is the duty of the state and state must pay the lawyer an amount fixed by the court.
“Society must strongly condemn crime through punishment, but brutal deterrence is fiendish folly and is a kind of crime by punishment. It frightens, never refines; it wounds never heals“-Krishna Iyer
It is the constitutional obligation of the “State” to devise a procedure as well as the mechanism which would ensure the residuary Fundamental Rights of the prisoner. It is also the obligation of the Supreme Court to act as the guardian of the fundamental rights of the people behind the bars by issuing necessary directions to the state. The powers of Supreme Court are of widest amplitude. Some positive steps have already been taken by the Supreme Court to alleviate the miseries of the prisoners. The present scenario is that even after conviction of person, the role of judiciary does not come to an end. But even after this, Judiciary has to play effective and supervising role with regard to the treatment of prisoner inside the prison. When a person is put inside the prison he loses some fundamental rights such right to freedom of movement, freedom of association etc. The prisoners are entitled to claim the residuary fundamental rights even inside the prisons. The state is under a constitutional obligation to honour and protect their rights including the right to life and human dignity. Therefore there is need of active participation of the society which is essential for the true welfare of the prisoners behind the bars. The stereotype thought prevalent in the Indian society considers them as convicts or men with doubtful character and cast social stigma affecting them personally and their family members. Therefore the encrusted view of a convict as deserving of punishment apart from the deprivation of his liberty must be negated and a new impetus must be given in the field of criminal jurisprudence.