Prisoners entitled to free legal aid at all stages: HC

Allahabad High Court underscored need to ensure that right to free legal service was made available to prisoners at "all stages" and to proactively inform prisoner about entitlement to free legal aid.

Allahabad: The Allahabad High Court has underscored the need to ensure that the right to free legal service was made available to prisoners at "all stages" and to proactively inform a prisoner about his entitlement to free legal aid.
"No procedure which denies legal assistance to an economically or otherwise disabled prisoner or which keeps a prisoner unaware of his rights can be considered just, reasonable and fair," a Division Bench comprising Justice Amar Saran and Justice Sunita Agarwal remarked in its September 25 order.

"The right to free legal service should be made available to all prisoners at all stages, including the pre-trial stage, for contesting the trial thereafter and also for moving applications for bail," the court said.

However, it observed that "differential priorities could be fixed about the categories of prisoners who would have the first claim on free legal services", and issued directions to Inspector General (Prisons) of Uttar Pradesh besides District Judges and other authorities concerned with legal services in the state.

The IG (Prisons) has been directed to "send details in tabular form" of prisoners who are more than 70 years of age, those who have spent more than 12 years in jail, women prisoners who have been in jail for seven years or more for offences under Section 304 B IPC (dowry death) and 10 years or more for other types of crime.

Besides, the court has sought a detailed list of prisoners who have not been released from jail even after two months or more after being granted bail by a court "because of their failure to obtain required sureties or for verification of their personal sureties` solvency".

The court also directed district judges to "cross check the information relating to prisoners" lodged in jails of districts under their jurisdiction with the concerned authorities.

The District Judges have also been asked to ensure that lawyers on the panel for providing legal aid to prisoners visit district or central jails in their districts at least twice every month and to ensure that an adequate number of women lawyers are appointed which would facilitate legal assistance to female inmates.

The court has also suggested that lower courts "may consider either reducing the bail amount or releasing the prisoner on a personal bond" for those who were "unable to obtain bond for adequate sureties or lack of proper verification for three months after the bail order".

The court ordered that the matter be listed on October 25 next "for further orders and submission of compliance reports".

The court passed the order in course of hearing criminal appeal filed by Govardhan Singh and his mother Ganga Devi, who were awarded life sentence by a Shahjahanpur court in 2005 for the murder of Singh`s wife Usha.

The father of the deceased had lodged an FIR alleging that his daughter was killed by her husband and in-laws who used to harass her for dowry.