1. Has the court jurisdiction to consider prisoner’s grievance, not demanding release but, within the incarcerator circumstances, complaining of ill-treatment and curtailment short of Illegal detention?
2. What are the broad contours of the Fundamental Rights, especially Article 14,19 and 21 which belong to a detainee sentenced by Court?
3. What judicial remedies can be granted to prevent and punish their breach and to provide access to prison justice?
4. What practicable prescriptions bearing on prison practices can be drawn up by the Court consistently with the existing provisions of the Prisons Act and Rules bent to shape to conform to Part III?
5. What prison reform perspectives and strategies should be adopted to strengthen, in the long run, the constitutional mandates and human rights imperatives?
The petitioner Sunil Batra is a convict under the death sentence lodged at Tihar central jail in Delhi. He wrote a letter to a Judge of the Supreme court regarding a complaint of a brutal assault by a Head Warden of the Tihar Central jail on another prisoner, Prem Chand. This letter was treated as Public Interest Litigation under article 32 of the constitution by the Supreme court. In this letter, Mr.Sunil mentioned a crime of torture practiced upon another prisoner, Prem Chand, allegedly by a jail warder Maggar Singh as a means to extract money from the victim through his visiting relatives.
· J. Iyer called the petition “epistolary in fashion”. The Court noted that “the essence of the matter is that in our era of human rights consciousness the habeas writ has functional plurality and the constitutional regard for human decency and dignity is tested by this capability.”
· The Court also noted the following:
"Are prisoners persons? Yes, of course. To answer in the negative is to convict the nation and the Constitution of dehumanization and to repudiate the world legal order, which now recognises rights of prisoners in the International Covenant of Prisoners' Rights to which our country has signed assent. In Batra's case, this Court has rejected the hands-off doctrine and it has been ruled that fundamental n lights do not flee the person as he enters the prison although they may suffer shrinkage necessitated by incarceration. Our constitutional culture has now crystalized in favor of prison justice and judicial jurisdiction."
· We, therefore, affirm that where the rights of a prisoner, either under the Constitution or under other law, are violated the writ power of the court can and should run to his rescue. There is a warrant for this vigil. The court process casts the convict into the prison system and the deprivation of his freedom is not a blind penitentiary affliction but a blightedinstitutionalization geared to a social good. The court has a continuing responsibility to ensure that the constitutional purpose of the deprivation is not defeated by the prison administration. In a few cases, this validation of judicial invigilation of prisoners' condition has been voiced by this court and finally reinforced by the Constitution Bench in Batra (supra). The Court need not adopt a "hands off" attitude in regard to the problem of prison administration. It is all the more so because a convict is in prison under the order and direction of the court.”
· Court, in conclusion, held that Prem Chand has been tortured illegally and the Superintendent cannot absolve himself from responsibility even though he may not directly be a party. The supreme court directed the Superintendent to ensure that no corporal punishment or personal violence on Prem Chand shall be inflicted. No irons shall be forced on the person of Prem Chand in vindictive spirit. Some directions were also given to the state such as to prepare a Hindi prison’s handbook etc.
· Thus, the petition was allowed and directed a writ to issue, including all mandates and further order that a copy of the judgment be sent for suitable action to the Ministry of Home Affairs and to all the state governments since prison justice has pervasive relevance.