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DATE OF JUDGMENT: 15.02.1983

A writ petition was filed in the Honorable Supreme Court by Sheela Barse, a journalist, complaining of custodial violence to women prisoners while being confined in the police lock up in the city of Bombay. The court on this petition directed A.R.Desai, a social worker to ascertain the conditions of the prisoners in the Bombay Central Jail and interview the women prisoners. Thus a report was prepared which affirmed the abuse undergone by the prisoners and it suggests legal assistance to poor accused arrested and put in jeopardy. The report of Dr.Desai also pointed out two prisoners in Bombay Central Jail, one a German national and other a Thai national were duped and defrauded by a lawyer. The court here felt that if lawyers start to exploit people, everyone will lose faith in lawyers and the entire legal system. From this incident the Court felt the importance of setting up legal assistance to prisoners in jail. This responsibility was given to the Maharashtra State Board of Legal Aid and Advice in the State of Maharashtra.

The court accordingly directed the Inspector General of Prisoners in Maharashtra to issue circular to all Superintendents of Police in Maharashtra requiring them to

Send the list of under-trial prisoners, to the Legal Aid Committee, of the offences they are charged. Also a separate list for male and female prisoners needs to be created.

Send a list of persons arrested under S.41 of CPC who have been jailed beyond 15 days.

Provide facility to the nominated lawyers by the District Legal Aid Committee to enter jail and interview the concerned prisoners.

Furnish such lawyers with the required information about the prisoners in jail.

Put notice at prominent places in the jail about the visit of the nominate lawyers.

Allow the prisoner to visit the lawyer concerned regarding matters of legal assistance. Such visit must be within the sight and out of hearing of the jail officials.

The court also directed a couple of selected lawyers practicing in the district court to visit the jail in the district to ascertain the rights of the prisoners are validly applied. Also the court directed the District Legal Aid Committees to provide periodic reports to the Maharashtra State Board of Legal Aid & Advice about ensuring the proper undertaking of the directions issued. Also the Maharashtra State Board of legal Aid and Advice is directed to pay an honorarium of Rs.25/- per lawyer for every visit to the jail together with reasonable travelling expenses.

The court also framed certain separate guidelines for the protection of women prisoners in custody. They are

4-5 separate lock ups for women in reasonably good localities guarded by female constables.

Interrogation of female prisoners should be done only in the presence of female police officers/ constables.

When a person is arrested without warrant, he must be immediately informed about the grounds of the arrest so that he can apply for bail. The Maharashtra State Board of Legal Aid & Advice will prepare pamphlets setting out the legal rights of the arrested person.

When a person is arrested by the police, an immediate intimation of the facts needs to be given to the Legal Aid Committee by the latter. The committee will take steps to provide the legal assistance to the arrested person in the state’s cost provided the arrested person is willing to accept such legal assistance.

A City Sessions judge to be nominated who shall make surprise visit to police lock ups to provide the arrested persons to explain their grievances and ascertain the conditions in the police lock ups.

As soon as a person is arrested, information needs to be provided to the friend or relative of the arrested person.

The magistrate shall enquire the arrested person produced before him about the torture or maltreatment in police custody and inform such an arrested person about the rights under S.54 of CPC to be medically examined.

Thus the writ petition stand disposed with these orders and guidelines.

– Priyadharshini R



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