A stern directive from Bombay HC to Maharashtra Legal Aid Committee to frame legal aid devise to old prisoners

Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court comprising justice Arun Chaudhari and PN Deshmukh  gave stern directions to Maharashtra Legal Aid Committee (LAC)  to frame a policy to devise the legal aid system to old prisoners to prevent prisoners from spending long terms in jail.  Such stern directive came from the Bench while hearing a criminal appeal filed by Radhikabai (name changed), a 52-year-old, and her unmarried daughter, who were arrested by Yavatmal Police by alleging that they killed a newborn and thrown body in the river back in 2003.  The Umarkhed Sessions Court sentenced them life imprisonment in year 2006, however, the daughter was granted bail, whereas mother has been languishing in Nagpur Jail since then, nearly for 12 years.  She, since then, had not sought legal aid or filed any appeal till this year.  The most adverse thing in this case is that, there was no evidence against her to prove the alleged offence.  The Judge said that if this unfortunate woman had preferred the appeal, she would have been at liberty in 2003 itself.  The Bench imposed a cost of Rs. 3lakh on the government for wrongly confining her.

The Division Bench also referred Criminal Procedure Code, wherein Section 383 contemplated that a petition can be submitted to the officer in charge of the jail to file before proper Appellate Court.  Bench directed LAC to devise a solution based system through which it should monitor the convicts-prisoners whether they preferred any appeal or not, and if not, why they have not preferred.  The Bench explained the role of LAC by referring the Supreme Court’s judgment authored by renowned human rights crusader justice PN Bhagwati in Hussainara Khatoon versus Bihar Government reported in 1979.  In that case SC stated that every accused has a constitutional right to have free legal aid arranged by the State, who is unable to engage a lawyer due to his poverty and it is mandatory on the part of the State to provide such legal aid on such circumstances.  The constitutional obligation conferred on the state cannot wait for longer time for its implementation, as already many years gone since the enactment of the Constitution.  SC also reminded in its judgment that many states are not following the constitutional obligation of providing free legal services that was conferred on them to the prisoners.  The SC also quoted that it should not be forgotten that law is not only to speak justice, but also deliver justice, legal aid is purely essential.  Basically, legal aid is really nothing but equal justice in action and a delivery system of social justice, intended to reach to the common man.

The Bench stated that LAC’s investigation of such issues related to convicts/prisoners is essential as the Bench observed that such prisoners’ mindset may not continue to be the same.  LAC became financial strong enough over the decade period with the assistance of Government and its time for it to attend the prisoners especially like old woman in this case to provide justice to them.

Anitha Gutti