Jail authorities duty bound to respect lawyers, allow them to meet imprisoned clients: Kerala High Court

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The Kerala High Court recently took strong objection to prison authorities standing in the way of lawyers meeting their imprisoned clients [Adv. Thushar Nirmal Sarathy v State of Kerala & Ors.]
Justice PV Kunhikrishnan observed that lawyers are officers of the Court and when they visit prisons to meet their client in their official capacity, it is the duty of the concerned authorities to facilitate the same.

“Usually, it is said that the Bench and Bar are the two sides of the same Coin. On some occasions, the lawyer is part of the judiciary itself. Lawyers are not only helping their clients but are also assisting the Court to arrive at the right conclusion in a lis. Therefore, the lawyers are officers of the Court. When a lawyer is going to prison to meet his client, it is the duty of the officers of the jail to give respect to the lawyer and allow him to do his official/professional duty without any delay,” the Court stated.

The Court also underscored that the right of a convict to get legal assistance is a constitutional right.

“It is the right of a lawyer to see his client in connection with his professional duties, if his client also wants to meet the lawyer. There cannot be any restrictions from the police or the prison authorities. But I make it clear that the action of the lawyers should be in connection with their professional duties and not for any other purpose,” the Court said.

The judge went on to issue a warning that it would take a serious view of any action by jail authorities to impede lawyers from meeting their imprisoned clients.

“If any unnecessary delay is caused to a lawyer in meeting a client in jail or if there is any unnecessary detention of a lawyer at the gate of a jail, who approaches a prison after taking appointment to meet his client in connection with his professional duties, this Court will take it very seriously in the future,” the Court said in its judgment.

The judgment was passed on a petition filed by a lawyer, advocate Thushar Nirmal Sarathy, who submitted that he was denied permission by the Superintendent of Central Prison, Poojappura, to get a vakalath, petition, and affidavit signed by his client in jail undergoing life imprisonment.

Justice Kunhikrishnan expressed his shock at the allegations in the petition.

“I am astonished to see the pleadings in this writ petition and the grievance of the lawyer. A lawyer is forced to approach this Court to obtain the signature of his client convicted in a criminal case and who is lodged in Central Prison,” the judge stated.

In an affidavit filed by the jail superintendent, he admitted to the fact that advocate Sarathy had been inconvenienced when he tried to visit his client. However, the superintendent added that this was not due to any intentional action from the authorities. The superintendent also expressed regret for the incident.

Subsequently, Sarathy informed the Court that his grievances had been redressed.

The Court emphasised that prison authorities should not stand in the way of prisoners meeting their lawyers for professional reasons.

“If a lawyer approaches a prison to meet his client and the client also wants to meet his lawyer in connection with the professional duty of a lawyer, the Prison Authority should give due respect to the lawyer and should take necessary steps to facilitate the meeting of the prisoner with his lawyer, without any unnecessary delay,” the Court said.

In order to ensure that situations like this do not recur, the Court opined that the Director General of Prisons and Correctional Services ought to issue an appropriate circular on the issue.

Accordingly, the Court directed the registry to expeditiously forward a copy of the judgment to the Director General.

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