Author: Shivangi Mishra, 3rd Year, BBA LL.B(H), School of Law, Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal.


In every country, the Judiciary has the duty and a constitutional role to protect citizens’ human rights. This role is delegated to the superior judiciary, i.e. the Supreme Court of India and High Courts, in accordance with the mandate of the Indian Constitution. India’s Supreme Court is one of the most active tribunals when it comes to human rights protection issues. It has a great reputation for being independent and credible. The independent judicial system stems from the notion of the separation of powers in which the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government form three branches. This separation and the resulting independence is key to the effective upholding of the rule of law and the human rights by the judiciary.

Although the Supreme Court addresses the problem of inhuman conditions of prisoners in the prisons of India, mainly due to overcrowding of jails, lack of equipment, personnel and facilities, and is working with state and center governments to improve these conditions; Treatment of inmates in India is secretly violating fundamental as well as individual statutory rights. To strengthen this situation, prisoners’ rights should be put in a two-page bullet-pointed manual and compulsorily distributed to convicted persons and inmates, before a magistrate at the time of their arrest or development, and again at the time of lodging in the prisons. These freedoms, unless propagated and imposed in every corner and the entire circumference of the prison, represents the nullity and violation of human trust in the criminal justice system.

Various fundamental rights under Articles 14[1], 19[2], 20[3], 21[4], and 22[5] of India’s Constitution implied that they deal with prisoner rights. Article 14 deals with the right to equality, which gives all persons equality before the law and equal protection of the law. Article 21 concerns the right to life and the right to personal liberty. Article 20 deals with, inter alia, two things: first, it prohibits double risk, that is, no person should be convicted twice for the same crime. Second, it forbids self-incrimination, that is, no one can be coerced against himself to be a witness.

Article 22 stipulates that a person must be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest and he can appoint a lawyer of his choice. In the case Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi,[6] it was observed that Supreme Court’s ‘construction’ of the definition of ‘life’ under Article 21, includes all freedoms, such as the right to health, the right to food, the right to shelter, the right to bail, the right to a speedy trial, the right to free legal assistance, Right to imprisonment and death in police lock-ups or encounters, right to meet friends and family members, right to reasonable wages in prison, right to cruel and unusual punishment, etc.


In the recent past, India’s Supreme Court has been very cautious against infringement of prisoners’ civil rights. Article 21[7] of the Indian Constitution provides that ‘No person shall be deprived of his or her life and liberty except in accordance with the procedure laid down by law.’ The right to life and personal liberty are India’s backbone of human rights. The Indian judiciary has served as an institution through its positive approach and activism to provide an effective remedy against human rights violations. The courts have developed and defined a plethora of rights by giving a liberal and detailed definition of “life and personal liberty.”

In Batra v. Delhi Administration,[8] The deceased was in judicial custody in the current case having been involved in Police-Station Crime No. 18/77. Prosecuting the citizens and then putting them in prison undoubtedly deprives the citizens of their freedom, but it is allowed under the law and there is no breach of Art.21 accordingly. Deprivation of liberty is, therefore, in the exercise of governmental duties and free from behaving, struck by the sovereign immunity doctrine. Deprivation of rights is distinct from the deprivation of living. Though deprived of liberty by the virtue of sovereign functions, an under-trial prisoner in judicial custody still has the right to protection of his life.


It is also one of the attributes of the fair trial that the accused must have the proper opportunity to defend himself. But that opportunity will have no meaning unless the accused person is informed of the charge against him.

It a right of the accused to know about the charges imposed upon him, so that he can explain the same to his lawyer and appoint a lawyer that he finds perfect for his case. It is also the duty of the police officer who framed the charge to explain the same to the accused and also to tell him what actions he is required to take.


‘Speedy Trial’ is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution for the accused to have the cases disposed of early. The constitutional guarantee of speedy trails is an important safeguard for the prevention of unfair and oppressive trial incarceration; Minimizing concern accompanying public charges and limiting the possibility of long delays impairing the ability of the accused to defend himself.

In Hussainara Khatoon( IV) v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar,[9] the case dealt with the rights of prisoners under trial to habeas corpus petitions which revealed a shocking state of affairs regarding the administration of justice in the Bihar State. An alarmingly large number of men and women, including children, had been awaiting trial in law courts for years behind prison bars. The offenses that some of them were charged with were insignificant, which, even if true, would not warrant imprisonment for more than a few months, maybe a year or two, and yet they remained in prison, stripped of their liberty, for periods ranging from three to ten years without ever starting their trial. Under trials, the Court ordered that these be released immediately, many of whom were held in jail without trial or even without charge. In this case, Fairness under article 21 was impaired as the speedy trial was not provided to the accused, The Supreme Court (Bhagwati J) held that the State cannot be allowed to deny the accused, the constitutional right to prompt trial on the ground that State does not has the sufficient financial resources to incur the necessary expenditure to improve the administrative and judicial apparatus with a view to improve the speedy trial. Speedy proceedings are necessary to gain public confidence in the judiciary. The delayed trial also undermines the purpose of the offenders’ re-socialization. Delayed justice results in unfair violence. Section 309(1)[10] gives the courts instructions for prompt trials and swift disposals.


The Constitution introduced Free Legal Aid as one of the Guideline Principles of State Policy under Article 39A[11] into the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976. This is the Constitution’s most critical and straightforward Article that speaks of Free Legal Aid. Although this Article is found to be one of the Directive Principles of State Policy in Part IV of the Constitution, and although this Article cannot be enforced by the courts, the principle laid down therein is fundamental in the country’s governance. Article 37 of the Constitution imposes on the State the obligation to apply these concepts in the making of legislation. Although Article 38 imposes an obligation on the State to promote people’s welfare by maintaining and preserving the constitutional order in which justice, moral, economic, and political, it informs all the institutions of national life as effectively as it does to others.

In Madhav Hayawadan Rao Hosket v. State of Maharashtra, [12] a 3 Judge bench of SC read Articles 21[13] and 39-A[14], along with 304[15] of the Cr. PC; it was observed that court came to the conclusion that is it the responsibility of state government to provide legal services to the accused free of cost. TRIAL IN PRESENCE OF ACCUSED In criminal cases, the general rule is to conduct all inquiries and trials in the presence of the accused person. The underlying principle is that the court should not proceed ex parte in criminal proceedings against the accused person. The reason is that it allows the accused to get better understanding of the case, charges and witnesses against him, so he can test their truthfulness at a later stage and defend himself.


Human Rights are an integral part of human dignity. In different cases, the Supreme Court of India took a severe note of the inhumane treatment of prisoners and gave effective directions to prison and police authorities to secure the rights of prisoners and persons in police lock-up. The Supreme Court read Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution concerning the right against torture. In the case Madhu Kishwar & Ors. Etc vs. State of Bihar & Ors[16] , the court observed that “the treatment of a human being in a way which offends human dignity would certainly be arbitrary and could be challenged in accordance with Article 14.”

In Raghubir Singh v. State of Bihar,[17] The Supreme Court expressed its anguish over police torture by upholding the life sentence imposed on a police officer responsible for the death of a suspect because of torture in a police lock-up.


The place where any Criminal Court is held for the purpose of investigating or prosecuting any offense shall be deemed to be an open court to which the public can generally have access, to the extent that it is convenient to include them: Provided that the presiding Judge or Magistrate may, if it deems fit, order, at any stage of any investigation into or trial of any particular case, that the public in general, or any particular person, shall not have access to, be or remain in, the room or building used by the Court.


The fundamental principle of criminal law is that everyone is presumed innocent unless his guilt in a trial before an impartial and competent court is proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Kali Ram v. State of H.P, [18]The Supreme Court noted and reaffirmed the need for a ‘presumption of innocence’ principle. This is the responsibility of the prosecutor and defense attorney and all the public officials involved in prosecution to uphold the presumption of innocence by refraining from prejudging the result of the trial.


Article 20 of the Indian Constitution provides:

  • No person shall be convicted of any offense except for violation of a law in force at the time of the commission of the act charged as an offense, not be subjected to a penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of the offense. (No ex- post facto law)
  • No person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offense more than once. (No double jeopardy) — No person accused of any offense shall be compelled to be a witness against himself. (No Self- Incrimination)


There is no need to emphasize the importance of affirmed rights of every human being and thus to prevent their violations becomes a sacred duty of the Court as the custodian and caretaker of citizens human rights and fundamental rights.

The Supreme Court played a major role in the fighting for the prisoner rights. But still the fact is that it is the police and prison authorities that need to be trained and oriented in order to take the rights of the prisoner seriously.

Prisoners do not cease to be human beings, and in many cases, the Supreme Court has reiterated this position and acknowledged the prisoners’ rights, so that they do not suffer and a better rehabilitative environment is given to them in order to improve and become better people during the prison term. State and center governments have a responsibility not only to provide infrastructure, manpower, and humane conditions for the rehabilitation and rightful survival of prisoners but also to inform prisoners of rights at the right time, in order to avoid possible, potential, and excessive abuse of prisoners by powerful prisoners. In India, thousands of cases regarding inmate violations go unnoticed.

I would conclude by saying that the circulation of information on rights to prisoners, extensive media advertising of the right of prisoners, and corner to corner surveillance in prisons could be key to upholding the rights of prisoners in India.


[1] Article 14- Equality before law, The constitution of India, 1950

[2] Article 19- Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc., The constitution of India, 1950

[3] Article 20- Protection in respect of conviction for offences, The constitution of India, 1950

[4] Article 21- Protection of life and personal liberty, The constitution of India, 1950

[5] Article 22- Protection against arrest and detention in certain cases, The constitution of India, 1950

[6] AIR 1981 SC 746

[7] Article 21- Protection of life and personal liberty, The constitution of India, 1950

[8] AIR 1978 SC 1675 [9] AIR 1979 SC 1869 [10] Section 309(1)- Power to postpone or adjourn proceedings, The code of criminal procedure, 1973

[11] Article 39 A- Equal justice and free legal aid., The Constitution of India, 1950

[12] AIR 1978 SC 1548

[13] Article 21- Protection of life and personal liberty, The constitution of India, 1950

[14] Article 39 A- Equal justice and free legal aid., The Constitution of India, 1950

[15] Section 304 – Legal aid to accused at State expense in certain cases, The code of criminal procedure, 1973

[16] AIR 1996 SC 1864

[17]AIR 1987 SC 149

[18] AIR 1973 SC 2773

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Editorial Credits: Alivya Prakash.

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