The prisons authority told the Delhi High Court on Tuesday that jail inmates in the national capital can now consult their private or legal aid lawyers via video conference.

The facility was earlier available only for consulting legal aid lawyers, but by a circular issued on Monday, July 6, all inmates in all the jails can now use it to even consult their private lawyers, the prisons authority informed a Bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan.

Taking note of the submission made by Delhi government additional standing counsel Satyakam, appearing for the prisons authority, the Bench said it was not going to interfere in the matter at this stage and issue any directions.

The court also said that the “government should be given free movement in the joints” during the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic — “a situation never envisaged“.

The court was hearing two separate PILs moved by two lawyers — Sarthak Maggon and Ajit P Singh — challenging a March 25 notification of the prisons authority suspending all legal interviews and family visits in jails in view of the coronavirus outbreak.

 

The court said the restrictions on legal interviews were put in place by the prisons authority to save the lives of the inmates and with the issuance of the July 6 circular, the March 25 notification was no longer applicable.

However, senior advocate Vikas Pahwa, appearing for Maggon, and advocate Lav Kumar Agrawal, appearing for Singh, expressed some reservations regarding the circular.

They said that privacy of the privileged communication between inmate and lawyer ought to be maintained and no jail official should be within hearing range of the video conference.

Pahwa also said there was no clarity in the circular as to how long it will take to accept a request for video conference and allotment of a slot for the same.

He said these should be done in a time bound manner, preferably within 48 hours.

Satyakam said no jail official would be in hearing range of the video conference.

Taking note of all the submissions, the bench asked the prisons authority to consider them as suggestions if and when in the future it decides to amend the circular.

With these observations and directions, the court disposed of both pleas which were also seeking directions to the prison authorities to permit legal consultation of the inmates with their private advocates.

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