The Punjab and Haryana High Court, on Thursday, abolished the practice of keeping death row inmates in solitary confinement in Haryana jails, ruling that it violated Articles 20 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
A bench comprising Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Gurvinder Singh Gill ruled, “Accordingly, we abolish the practice adopted by the jail authorities in the State of Haryana, of segregating a convict sentenced to death, immediately after the pronouncement of sentence by the trial Court and after confirmation of sentence by the High Court, being unconstitutional.
The convict shall not be segregated/ isolated till the sentence of death has become final, conclusive and indefeasible which cannot be annulled or voided by any judicial process.”
It added that the period to keep a convict sentenced to death in segregation or isolation should be for the shortest possible time, that is two to three days.
The court was hearing a batch of appeals, wherein three of the appellants were sent to solitary confinement immediately after the judgment convicting them was passed in January last year. While ruling that the case before it did not fall within the category of “rarest of rare cases”, the court conducted an inquiry into the constitutionality of such solitary confinement.
It noted that Paragraph 758 of the Punjab Jail manual provides that every prisoner sentenced to death shall be confined in a cell apart from all the other prisoners, and is to be placed under the watch of a guard.
Taking note of several research articles and other authority on the subject, the court noted that keeping a convict in an isolated cell has psychiatric impact on him. It further held that the procedure is violative of Articles 20 and 21 of the Constitution of India, observing,
“There is no scientific reason why the convict sentenced to death should be kept in isolation for indefinite period till he exhausts all his constitutional and legal remedies. It causes immense pain, agony and anxiety to the condemned convict. It is violative of Articles 20 (2) and 21 of the Constitution of India. A man, even sentenced to death, has certain privileges and rights which cannot be denied to him due to colonial mindset. The provisions of the Punjab Jail Manual are anarchic, cruel and insensitive.”
It further explained, “This practice to keep the convict in custodial segregation/solitary confinement before the exhaustion of his constitutional, legal and fundamental rights is without authority of law. It will amount to additional punishment. It also amounts to torture and violative of his basic human rights.”
The court therefore opined that no purpose would ever be served by keeping a convict in isolation for an indefinite period of time, and hence, abolished the practice.
Read the Judgment Here