Thousands languish in jail for verdict copy
Thousands languish in jail for verdict copy
Sanjay Dutt can consider himself lucky. The actor, who was granted regular bail by the Supreme Court on Tuesday (detailed report on P ), had earlier managed to stay out of prison for almost two months—after being held guilty last July under the Arms Act and sentenced to six years—only because he had not received a copy of his judgment from the TADA court.
The SC had granted him a temporary reprieve in August on the ground that his rights entitled him to a copy of the 1993 serial blasts verdict and that without the order, he could not appeal against his conviction in a higher court.
But what about the hundreds of other convicts languishing in prisons across Maharashtra for exactly the same reason?
Shashikant Sharma was sentenced to life by the sessions court at Fort on November 21, 2003. Sharma decided to file a plea against the verdict in a higher court. But he needed a copy of the judgment for that, and despite repeated requests to the court, it took him two-and-a-half years to get it.
Raju Bhandare was convicted by the Sewree sessions court on November 18, 2006. Lodged in the Kolhapur central jail, he wrote three letters to the court asking for a copy of the verdict. He received a copy only 11 months later in October 2007.
Mohammad Kalva Sheikh was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment in 2005 by the Fort sessions court. Two years later Sheikh, who is doing time in Kolhapur central jail, is still to receive a copy of his judgment. An RTI application has revealed a startling fact—of the 2,247 persons convicted by the sessions court at Fort in the last five years, almost 44%, or nearly half that number, may not have received their judgment copies.
And this is just one court. Multiply it by the thousands of courts across the country and you could have mind-numbing numbers. These point to the ineffectiveness of the system in fulfilling its duties towards those convicted and serving long sentences.
Under Section 363 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), when a person is sentenced to imprisonment, a copy of the judgment should be given free of cost "immediately after the pronouncement of the judgment". But that occurs more in theory than in practice.
Between January 2002 and July 2007, the sessions court at Fort convicted 2,247 persons, according to the reply given to the RTI application by additional registrar S P Patange. Of these, just 124 persons, or a minuscule 5%, were given copies of the order on the very day that the judgment was pronounced.
Of the remaining cases, the court subsequently sent 1,027 copies of judgments to the Arthur Road jail to be delivered to the concerned prisoners. But the sessions court received signed acknowledgments from the prisoners, as required under the rules, in only 32 cases. So, 995 prisoners or 44% of the convicts sentenced to imprisonment in the last five years may not even have received copies of their judgments.
As for the rest, they are believed to have been brought to court at a later date to collect copies of their judgments.
The Sewree sessions court declined to give details. The Bombay high court's registrar general R P Sondur-Baldota told TOI, "Whenever a judge is unable to give the prisoner a copy of the verdict on the day of judgment, a date is set for the prisoner to be produced in court to receive a copy." In the remaining cases, "a copy of the judgment is sent to the jail and it is the responsibility of the prison authorities to forward a copy to the accused", said Sondur-Baldota.
"Not receiving a copy of the judgment on time is akin to being condemned," said criminal lawyer Yug Chaudhry, who filed the application under the Right to Information Act in October 2007.
Chaudhry was moved by the plight of prisoners in jails across the state. Many of them had written to him over the years seeking his help in getting copies of the judgment in their cases. "A convict can file an appeal to challenge his sentence only after receiving a copy of the judgment. Such delays violate a prisoner's fundamental and legal rights guaranteed under the constitution and obstruct his access to justice," says Chaudhry.
In convict Raju Bhandare's case, it was revealed by the registrar of the Sewree court, U M Satpute, that a copy of the judgment was initially sent to the Arthur Road prison. "It appears that in the meantime Bhandare was transferred to Kolhapur jail...and the judgment copy was not forwarded." This eventually resulted in a delay of 11 months before Raju could get hold of the copy of the order and file an appeal in a higher court.
Such cases are common and point either to a lack of coordination among jail staff or red-tape in the bureaucracy attached to the courts. Commenting on the Bhandare case, Satpute blamed officials in the Kolhapur and Mumbai jails for failure "to maintain updated records of the convicts. Normally, in such cases, convicts are not transferred to other jails without a copy of the judgment and without the permission of the concerned court".
However, Chaudhry insists that judicial officers should not be allowed to "palm off their responsibility to the executive in this manner". It's the responsibility of the court to ensure that the accused receives a copy of the judgment, he said.
The debate remains unresolved, but Sunjay Dutt can certainly consider himself lucky for being able to get hold of a judgment copy within a few months and subsequently petition the Supreme Court for his release.
Thousands languish in jail for verdict copy-India-The Times of India
Re: Thousands languish in jail for verdict copy
Dutt, others get bail through e-mail
Abraham Thomas | New Delhi
Granting bail to Sanjay Dutt along with 16 other accused in the 1993 Mumbai blasts, the Supreme Court on Tuesday set a precedent by directing its order to be e-mailed to the concerned Mumbai court.
The order facilitating early release of the 17 accused was welcomed by the legal fraternity, who lauded the initiative as a positive step in making judiciary technology-savvy.
Senior advocate KTS Tulsi said, "The Chief Justice of India has set a good precedent by allowing its order to be communicated via e-mail. The trial courts often require a certified copy of the order causing unnecessary delay. Now the trial court will have to accept the order via e-mail saving precious time for the accused."
On the previous occasion on August 20 this year when the Supreme Court granted interim bail to the film actor, despite specific direction for immediate disbursal of order, it took three days before it reached the trial judge in Mumbai. On Tuesday, senior advocate Fali Nariman appearing for Dutt, sought the order to be given out by Tuesday evening.
Dutt was sentenced to undergo six years imprisonment by a TADA Court in Mumbai for possession of a prohibited weapon - AK-56 and a 9 mm pistol, allegedly received from an associate of underworld don Abu Salem.
The Bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan and Justices RV Raveendran and JM Panchal voluntarily consented to e-mail the order from the Supreme Court Registrar's official mail account, which came as a refreshing news both for Dutt and the other accused who would benefit from the order.
It would now be up to the trial court to decide the conditions for bail, though the apex court specified that the accused will have to report at the nearest police station once every three months. In some exceptional cases with serious charge, the accused were asked to report every month at the local police station.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi too supported the initiative led by the Chief Justice. "It's a good step by the apex court. In an age when lawyers can electronically file their petitions in the Supreme Court registry through e-mail, such an order marks a good beginning," he said. Adding to this, Tulsi said, "It is hard to imagine that in this day and age we are still moving at bullock-cart pace. Time has come for the judiciary to refurbish its image especially when the facilities already exist."
Out of the 25 appeals heard by the Bench, the Chief Justice clarified at the outset it was not inclined to grant bail to persons sentenced to life for charges of conspiracy and attack under the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (TADA) Act. But in this category the court made an exception in the case of Somnath Thapa, aged 70 who is in his last stage of cancer. The Bench permitted him bail on the condition he would report monthly to the prosecution.
On the remaining appeals, the court segregated the cases of four persons who were convicted under the lesser offences of Arms Act and Section 201 (destruction of evidence) under the Indian Penal Code. This included the case of Sanjay Dutt who was convicted by the TADA Court under Arms Act and spared conviction under TADA. One person in this category was refused bail after the court asked him to surrender latest by December 10.
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