In a landmark judgment with far reaching consequences that will benefit those prisoners who are kept in solitary confinement, the Uttarakhand High Court delivered a landmark judgment in the case of State of Uttarakhand vs. 1. Mehtab s/o Tahir Hassan 2. Sushil @Bhura s/o Gulab Singh Criminal Reference No. 1 of 2014 on April 27, 2018 in 99 pages wherein it held that the practice to keep the convict in custodial segregation/solitary confinement before the exhaustion of his constitutional, legal and fundamental rights is unconstitutional.
It thus abolished the practice of keeping death row convicts in isolation immediately after the sentence is pronounced, adding that solitary confinement was an “anarchic and cruel practice which amounts to torture and can cause immense pain, agony and anxiety” to inmates. I am sure that this landmark judgment will receive utmost respect not just from lower courts and high courts but also from Supreme Court which is the top court in our country! This landmark judgment must be studied by every person who has even the slightest of interest in law and legal reforms.
The Uttarakhand High Court in an exemplary and landmark judgment has very rightly held in para 99 that, “This practice to keep the convict in custodial segregation/solitary confinement before the exhaustion of his constitutional, legal and fundamental rights is without authority of law. It will amount to additional punishment. It also amounts to torture and violative of his basic human rights.” The Bench of Uttarakhand High Court comprising of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Alok Singh commendably held in para 100 of the landmark judgment that, “Accordingly, we abolish the practice adopted by the jail authorities, by segregating a convict sentenced to death, immediately after the confirmation of sentence by the High Court, being unconstitutional. The convict shall not be segregated/isolated till the sentence of death has become final, conclusive and indefeasible which cannot be annulled or voided by any judicial or constitutional procedure. The period to keep a convict sentenced to death in segregation/isolation should be for the shortest possible time i.e. 2-3 days. The appellants shall not be kept in segregation till they are found to be “prisoners sentenced to death”, in view of the law discussed hereinabove.”
The Bench also held that, “This should be done only after the convict has exhausted all the possible options to the highest levels including an appeal in the Supreme Court as well as mercy petition to the President.” The Bench also minced no words in making it absolutely clear that, “The practice was in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution that guarantees protection of life and personal liberty and Article 20(2) which says that no person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once.”
It held that isolating the convict was an
“additional punishment” and amounts to “torture and violation of his basic human rights”.
The Bench also held that, “This practice to keep the convict in solitary confinement before the exhaustion of his constitutional, legal and fundamental rights is without authority of law.” According to the
Supreme Court guidelines on various procedures before executing a death convict, solitary or single cell confinement prior to rejection of the mercy petition by the President is unconstitutional. It must be followed in letter and spirit.
It would be pertinent to mention here that the directions of the court came while hearing an appeal by Sushil Singh and Mehtab Hussain who were sentenced to death by a lower court in Dehradun in 2014 for the murder and rape of a 55year-old woman in the district and had challenged the death sentence. They had also been convicted under Section 3(2)(v) of the SC/ST Act, which prescribes life imprisonment for a person who commits an IPC offence punishable with a 10-year imprisonment or more against a person for the reason of them being a member of the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe community.
Division Bench of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Alok Singh said solitary confinement shall be used as a last resort.