Solitary Confinement of Death Row Convicts: Judicial officer to probe to apprise Supreme Court of ground reality

Supreme Court: While addressing an appeal alleging solitary confinement of a death row convict, the 3-Judge Bench of Uday Umesh Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat and P.S. Narasimha, JJ., directed local inspection by a District Judge to throw light on the ground situation.  

A appeal was filed before the Court alleging that the appellant had been placed in solitary confinement since 29-10-2006 contrary to the law laid down by the Supreme Court in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, (1978) 4 SCC 494. The appellant had relied on the letter addressed by the Medical officer to the Superintendent of Prisons dated 06-11-2011 claiming that ‘the aforesaid prisoner is kept in solitary confinement since his admission to this prison on 29-10-2006’ and further that the petitioner was suffering from ‘psychosis with depression’.

Dr. Yug Mohit Chaudhry, counsel for the appellant stressed that the appellant was kept in solitary confinement right from the decision of the Sessions Court awarding him death sentence. To strengthen the argument the counsel submitted various documents including the Prison Manual in support of the submission that, as the petitioner was segregated and kept in a separate Cell that would amount to solitary confinement, in terms of the law laid down in Sunil Batra case (supra).

The State Government opposed the allegation of solitary confinement, however no specific reply was filed in the High Court controverting the basic allegations in the writ petition. The State had only requested that video conferencing be arranged to apprise the Court of the circumstances in which the petitioner had been lodged in a Cell.

The 3-judge Bench opined,

It is true that the Hon’ble Judges constituting the Bench in Sunil Batra’s case had visited the jail premises themselves in order to have first-hand knowledge about the conditions in which said petitioner was lodged. We may at this stage rely upon the local inspection to be conducted by the District Judge, Belgaum who also holds the charge as the Chairman of the District Legal Services Committee, Belgaum.”

Therefore, the Bench directed the District Judge, Belgaum to conduct a local inspection and place a report along with pictures as early as possible and latest by 25-04-2022, to enable the Court to have a clear understanding of the ground situation. To make sure the report deals with required details the Bench issued following additional directions:

  1. “The report shall concentrate on location of the barracks in which the cells of Death Row Convicts are situated.
  2. The inspection shall cover issues whether the inmates of the concerned cells are allowed to intermingle with fellow prisoners, the way the meals are served to them and the duration for which the inmates are allowed to come out of their individual cells. These are only illustrative pointers. What we want to gather is the typical life-style of Death Row Convicts and how their days are spent.”

However, the Bench clarified that the Cells which are close to the gallows and are used for keeping persons about to be executed, are different from the Cells for the Death Row Convicts.

With regard to status of Mercy Petition, the Bench directed the Registry to make copies of the file of Mercy Petition and return the same to the advocate on record concerned in a sealed cover. The matter is to be further heard on 26-04-2022.

[B.A. Umesh v. Union of India, Special Leave to Appeal (Crl.) No(s). 890 of 2022, decided on 21-04-2022]


Appearance by:

For Petitioner(s): AOR K. Paari Vendhan with Yug Mohit Chaudhry, Siddhartha Sharma, Prabu Ramasubramaniam, Payoshi Roy, Raghunatha Sethupathy B., Vishnu Unnikrishnan, Priya R, Advocates

For the Respondent(s): ASG K.M. Nataraj, AOR Arvind Kumar Sharma, AOR Shubhranshu Padhi, AAG Nikhil Goel, Sr. Advocate Sonia Mathur and Khushboo Aggarwal, Prerna Dhall, Simarjeet Singh Saluja, Shailesh Madiyal, Sanjay Kumar Tyagi, Ashish Yadav, Rakshit Jain, Vishal Banshal, Aditya K. Roy, Advocates


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together 

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