The Punjab and Haryana High Court Friday abolished the practice of keeping death row inmates in solitary confinement in Haryana jails, ruling that it is without authority of law and amounts to additional punishment.
The order for abolishing the practice came as part of a judgment commuting the death sentence of three persons convicted last year by a Mahendergarh court for rape and murder of a nine-year-old in 2014 to a mandatory 20-year imprisonment without remissions.
The court order for “abolishing” is specific to the “practice” adopted by jail authorities in Haryana, but the division bench of Justices Rajiv Sharma and Gurvinder Singh Gill has not passed any order to remove the provision which forms part of the Punjab Jail Manual which has been adopted by Haryana.
Removing the provision will require the Punjab government to make amendments to the Jail Manual or for the court, acting on a legal challenge, to quash the provision.
The bench called the provision “anarchic, cruel and insensitive,” reflective of “a colonial mindset” and violative of Articles 20 (2) and Article 21. In a 111-page judgment, the court said the practice amounts to torture and is violative of the person’s basic human rights.
“The convict shall not be segregated/isolated till the sentence of death has become final, conclusive and indefeasible which cannot be annulled or voided by any judicial process. The period to keep a convict sentenced to death in segregation/isolation should be for the shortest possible time i.e. 2-3 days.”
The judges in the verdict have take note of the research done by American Civil Liberties Union on the medical consequences which people in solitary confinement face, an article published in the Harvard Law Review, a 2005 US Supreme Court judgment, a 1978 Indian Supreme Court judgment and a book on solitary confinement written by Sharon Shalev.
The Punjab Jail Manual, according to the judgment, specifies that at present “every prisoner condemned to death is to be confined in a cell apart from all other prisoners and is to be placed by day and by night under the charge of a special guard. No person can communicate with him without the authority of the Superintendent. The prisoner condemned to death is only permitted to occupy the court yard of his cell for half an hour each morning and evening.”
The verdict was passed in the appeals filed by three convicts against the death sentence awarded to them and the murder reference sent by the trial court for confirmation by the High Court. The convicts, according to their advocates, were immediately sent to solitary confinement after being sentenced to death, In November 2014, the nine-year-old victim had been kidnapped by the accused Arun, Rajesh and Deepak when she had gone out with a mouse trap in her hand to drop the mouse outside. She was raped and throttled by the convicts, according to police.
“We are of the view that this case does not fall in the ambit of the “rarest of rare case” for awarding death sentence to the appellants. Though according to the final opinion, death is violent but it cannot be termed that it has pricked collective conscious of the society. The young girl was killed by throttling but it cannot be termed gruesome murder,” the bench said, while providing reasoning for commuting the death sentence.