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Conversations Between A Prisoner And Spouse Should Be Unmonitored; Madras HC Reads Down Prison Rules [Read Judgment]

Manu Sebastian
28 May 2019 4:23 PM GMT
Conversations Between A Prisoner And Spouse Should Be Unmonitored; Madras HC Reads Down Prison Rules [Read Judgment]
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"When a prisoner meets his wife, he may like to hold her hands. His emotions are bound to be find a physical expression. While private prison cottages may be a distant prospect, the privacy and dignity of the prisoners , the privacy and dignity of the prisoners should be scrupulously protected. Conversations between prisoner and his spouse should be unmonitored".
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In recognition of the conjugal rights of prisoners, the Madras High Court has held that the conversations between a prisoner and spouse should be unmonitored.

The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court read down Rule 531(2) of the Tamil Nadu Prison Rules, which stated that every interview with a convicted prisoner should take place in the presence of an experienced prison officer.

The Court said that this rule cannot be applied during meetings between spouses. 

"Unless it is so read down, the right to dignity inhering in the prisoner and his spouse would certainly be infringed", said Justice G R Swaminathan in the judgment.

Also, Rule 529, which stated that the meeting should be at or near the main gate, was read down. The Court ordered that the prison authorities will have to make an exception in the case of spousal meetings.

"When a prisoner meets his wife, he may like to hold her hands. His emotions are bound to be find a physical expression. While private prison cottages may be a distant prospect,the privacy and dignity of the prisoners should be scrupulously protected. Conversations between prisoner and his spouse should be unmonitored", the judgment said

The Court was considering a writ petition filed by one Rahmath Nisha seeking permission for her brother Mohammad Shalin to meet his ailing wife who was hospitalized. Shalin was remanded by NIA Special Court Chennai in a bomb blast case.  When his wife fell ill, he had moved an application for meeting her. Though the NIA court had allowed the application, by the time he reached his home, his wife was taken to hospital. The escort police refused to take him to hospital by taking a literal view that Court had allowed him only to meet wife at home.

In this backdrop, the writ petition in High Court was filed by Shalin's sibling, pointing out that his wife's health situation was worsening.

The prosecution opposed the application by stating that that Shalin was accused in a terrorism case for supplying bombs. 

"Mohamed Shalin is no doubt a prisoner but he is a person too", Justice Swaminthanan observed in this regard.

Referring to the 2016 SC decision on the rights of prisoners(In re inhuman conditions in 1382 prisons), the Court said that right to life and dignity was not confined only to "good people" but was available to "prisoners, murderers and even traitors".

"A prisoner is also entitled to the expansive interpretation of the term "life" occurring in Article 21 to the extent the context permits. Incarceration or conviction does not reduce the prisoner into a non person", observed the Court.

The Court also referred to the judgment of Punjab and Haryana High Court which declared that prisoners had the right to reproduce and that this right was traceable to right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

Reference was made to Section 122 of the Indian Evidence Act, which deals with the privileged nature of communication between spouses, in order to reject the argument of the prosecution that the meeting can take place only in the presence of escort police.

The petition was disposed of permitting Shalin to spend time with his wife at hospital from 10 AM to 5 PM on May 29. The escort police was directed to respect the privacy of the prisoner and his wife.

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