In a bid to ensure that all convicts in Delhi jails get access to legal aid and are aware of their right to legal aid, Law department, Delhi Legal Services Authority (DLSA) and prison authorities suggested that DLSA and jail authorities should monitor convicts’ cases to ensure that all of them approach the High Court with an appeal.
The suggestions were given to the Delhi High Court bench of Justice P K Bhasin and Justice J R Midha, by DLSA on Monday. The court had in November directed the DLSA, Law Secretary and Director General (Prisons) to hold a meeting to come up with suggestions to reduce the delay in filing of convicts’ appeals, particularly those convicts who cannot afford to engage private advocates.
The court had sought suggestions from the government after a convict filed an appeal two years after his conviction. In his appeal, the convict had claimed that he had not been given legal aid, and had not been given proper legal advice regarding his appeal. The court had asked the legal services authorities to ensure that such delays did not occur and the “state legal aid system works out effectively.”
The DLSA on Monday submitted the minutes of the meeting held between the three departments, where it was noted that convicts are informed about their right to access legal aid only when they go to jail for the first time. If the convict refuses legal aid at the time, he “falls under the radar” of the legal services system. The government has suggested that jail authorities should monitor all cases every fortnight.
The government has also suggested that district court judges should be asked to inform all convicted persons of their right to file appeal against conviction, and an extra copy of the judgment should be sent to jail authorities. According to the DLSA, one reason for delay in filing appeals is that the convict does not have copies of the case file, which are usually left with relatives or advocates of the convict. In such a situation, jail authorities and the legal services providers do not know the details of the case and cannot give advice to the convict.
The legal services authority has also asked the High Court to issue directions to all district court judges to record the legal aid provisions in the judgment itself so that the convict can be informed of the provisions.
The DLSA has also said the entire case file of the convict would be sent in digitised format to the High Court legal services committee, so that it can be easily supplied to lawyers. According to submissions made by DLSA Officer of Special Duty Surinder S Rathi, the digitisation process is already being implemented and case records are being stored in hard disks by the DLSA and jail authorities.
The High Court asked the DG (Prisons) to file an affidavit with details of how many of the suggestions given by the high-powered meeting were being implemented. The court also said it would issue orders regarding other suggestions after it receives a status report on the issue from the jail and legal services authorities.