Nearly two weeks after Tihar Jail inmates went on a strike protesting against the rule propounding once-a-week meeting with their families, an advocate on Wednesday moved the Delhi High Court seeking quashing of a standing order by which an undertrial inmate could meet his lawyer only once a week.
A Bench of the Delhi High Court headed by Acting Chief Justice B.D. Ahmed issued notices to Delhi Government, Director-General (Prisons), the Delhi High Court Bar Association and the Bar Council of Delhi, which were made parties by the petitioner, saying that being body of advocates, they are capable of providing assistance to the court in framing guidelines in connection with the issue. The order under challenge was passed on February 27, 2013, and ruled that an inmate can meet his lawyer only once a week and cannot meet his family member for such interview if the member is an advocate by profession.
The relevant portion of the Standing Order dated 27.02.2013 which has been impugned by the petitioner in the writ petition before the Delhi High Court reads as under:
"a) Normally, an advocate should be allowed one interview per week with his/her Client prisoner in the jail as per routine practice. Legal Interview in exceptional circumstances can be allowed for the second time in a week with the prior approval of the Law Officer, PHQ.
b) A family member, who is an advocate cannot come for Legal Interview during evening hours. Such members can conduct interview during family interview timings.
c) Only such Legal Interview should be allowed where the Advocate is holding the Power of Attorney executed by the Prisoner and attested by either the Jail Superintendent/Dy. Superintendent or Court. "
Prior to passing of the order, legal interview with inmates was done on all days from Monday to Friday (except holidays).
Mr. Sahni said the order is against the right of a prisoner to seek legal advice and "curtailing the right of any prisoner under the garb of impugned standing order to have legal interview once a week is bad in law and against the constitutional provisions. He has further averred in his petition that it is the constitutional right of the inmate to engage a counsel of his own choice and "the said constitutional right cannot be vitiated by virtue of an administrative standing order." The petitioner has also raised a ground that "the refusal to allow the counsel to meet the inmate for the purpose of legal interview on the ground that he/she is related to the inmate is unjust, arbitrary and against the cardinal principle of natural justice and cannot be sustained."
The petitioner has also sought for appropriate directions to be issued to the Respondents to give proper respect and dignified treatment to the Counsels, who visit Tihar Jail for Legal Interview, as the hostile treatment meted out by the Jail Administration adversely affects the dignity of the Legal Profession. The petitioner points out in his writ petition that the counsels appointed by the Legal Aid Authority "are allowed to take their vehicles inside the jail and are granted immediate access inside the jail, whereas the private counsel have to walk long distances to reach the jail where their clients are lodged and then they are made to wait for atleast 30-45 minutes under the Sun without any designated place to wait or chair to sit, outside the jail, before they are called in and offered a place to sit and meet their client. The private counsel do not prefer to visit the jail to meet their clients for the purpose of legal interview and seek proper instructions due to such hostile policies adopted by the jail administration towards them and the inmates suffer due to such discriminatory practices adopted by the jail authorities as no seasoned counsel would wish to visit the place, where he is not welcome and is rather being humiliated."
Apart from seeking a quashing of the said Standing Order, the petitioner, Mr. Sahni has also prayed for directions from the High Court to the Director General (Prisons) to make appropriate arrangements "viz. sitting of advocates, drinking water etc while waiting outside Jail Gate during verification of their particulars to get into the Jail for Legal Interview" , and further arrangements to issue Car Entry/Pass to Advocate after duly verifying his particulars from the Bar Council and Bar Association etc.
Read the Petition