Saturday, June 3, 2023

Risky Target

In order to reduce the risk to prisoners and ensure that they have minimum interaction with outsiders while being transported to courts, the Delhi Prisons authority has proposed video conferencing.

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The Delhi Prisons authority has proposed that physical production of inmates before courts should be permanently stopped and more and more hearings take place via video conferencing. Whenever high-profile prison inmates are produced before courts for hearing, despite heavy security there are often threats and risks of disruption in law and order. In order to reduce the risk to the minimum and ensure that the inmates have minimum interaction with outsiders, the Delhi Prisons authority has given this proposal. The process of escorting a prisoner to court requires a lot of time and there is always an added risk of them interacting with accomplices outside court.

Out of 16 total jails, nine are in Tihar, six in Mandoli and one in Rohini. Plans are afoot to augment their video-conferencing facilities and install them in each prison ward. Incidentally, artificial intelligence will be used to monitor prisoners in the high security jail of the proposed fourth jail complex at Narela, where construction will start in April. With the help of face recognition technology, jail officials will be able to know the complete routine of prisoners with one click. At the same time, with the help of voice sensors installed in the walls of a cell, officers will be able to hear the voice of the prisoner there, if needed. 

The locking system of the jail barracks will be fully automatic. There will be a control room in each ward from where prison personnel will be able to monitor the entire activity of prisoners. These control rooms will be attached to a main control room along with the jail headquarters at Tihar. The height of the walls of this jail will be about 30 feet. The prison complex will be surrounded by three-tier walls. The distance between them will be such that no object thrown from outside will fall directly inside the jail premises. 

There have been many cases where security was breached while transferring prisoners. On September 24, 2021, jailed gangster Jitendra Gogi and his two assailants, posing as lawyers, were killed inside the Rohini courtroom. The incident occurred when the Principal District & Sessions Judge, North-West District, Rohini Courts, as well as other judges were in the court complex. Several lawyers, litigants and court staff were also present there and at risk. Thereafter in December 2021, a division bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh, while hearing a suo motu petition, issued several directions with regard to the upgradation and enhancement of security in court premises.

The Court directed that as far as under trial prisoners were concerned, their appearance may be secured through virtual mode. Wherever or whenever there is a necessity to produce them physically, abundant care and precautions shall be taken in providing adequate police escort and checking/frisking.

The Calcutta High Court recently directed its administration to get reports from all district courts about existing video conference facilities and the need for further enhancement and improvement. A division bench of Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj heard a PIL in this regard.

Moreover, the Gauhati High Court in November last year directed the Secretary to the Home Department, Government of Mizoram, to file an additional affidavit, informing it about steps taken by the Union home ministry and the Home Department, Mizoram, regarding upgradation and renovation of jails in each district in Mizoram.

Meanwhile, a rape accused was shot dead in front of the district courts of Gorakhpur, UP, on January 21, 2021, by the victim’s father. The dead, identified as Dilshad Hussain, a resident of Muzaffarpur (Bihar), was booked under Sections 363, 366 and 376 (kidnapping and rape) of the IPC and the POCSO Act. Hussain had reached the gate of the court after a call from his lawyer, where he was shot dead by the victim’s father, a retired BSF jawan. His minor daughter was kidnapped by Hussain on February 12, 2020. On March 12, 2021, police arrested him in Hyderabad and rescued the girl.

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In 2017, a sharpshooter, Sunil Sharma, who fled from police custody was killed in an encounter in Lucknow’s Gomti Nagar. Sharma had managed to flee while the police was taking him for an appearance in court. 

Meanwhile, the country’s most famous conman Natwarlal too managed to escape in 1996 (at the age of 84) from New Delhi railway station while being transported by the police from Kanpur jail to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, for treatment.

Then there is the case of gangster-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari whom the Supreme Court ordered to be transferred from Ropar jail in Punjab to Banda prison in Uttar Pradesh. However, the ambulance which was used to bring Ansari to court had a UP number plate. A case was registered in Barabanki (UP) after it was found that documents used for registration of the ambulance were fake.

In another case, former Chief Engineer of Noida, Yadav Singh, was assaulted by lawyers in Lucknow district court in February 2017 when he was produced by the ED in connection with a money laundering case. Singh was the main accused in a Rs 900-crore scam in Noida. When the Income Tax sleuths raided his house in Noida, huge amounts of gold, diamonds, cash and property papers were found.

In December 2019, a 28-year-old man, accused of raping and killing a four-year-old girl, was thrashed by a group of lawyers on the premises of a court in Indore district. The accused was brought to the sessions court at Mhow town after his three-day police remand ended.

In October 2021, the Delhi High Court formulated video conferencing rules in exercise of its powers under Section 7 of the Delhi High Court Act, 1966, and Article 227 of the Constitution, with the prior approval of the L-G of Delhi. 

Rule 6 provides Application for Appearance, Evidence and Submission by Video Conferencing and says:

6.1 Any party to the proceeding or witness, save and except where proceedings are initiated at the instance of the Court, may move a request for video conferencing. A party or witness seeking a video conferencing proceeding shall do so by making a request via the form prescribed in Schedule II.

6.2 Any proposal to move a request for video conferencing should first be discussed with the other party or parties to the proceeding, except where it is not possible or inappropriate, for example in cases such as urgent applications.

6.3 On receipt of such a request and upon hearing all concerned persons, the Court will pass an appropriate order after ascertaining that the application is not filed to impede a fair trial or to delay the proceedings.

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6.4 While allowing a request for video conferencing, the Court may also fix the schedule for convening the video conferencing.

6.5 In case the video conferencing event is convened for making oral submissions, the order may require the Advocate or party in person to submit written arguments and precedents, if any, in advance on the official email ID of the concerned Court.

6.6 Costs, if directed to be paid, shall be deposited within the prescribed time, commencing from the date on which the order convening proceedings through video conferencing is received. 

—By Shivam Sharma and India Legal Bureau

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