Videoconferencing brings relief to undertrials

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A file picture of an undertrial during a hearing at a special court in Bangalore.
A file picture of an undertrial during a hearing at a special court in Bangalore.

Raghava M.

They will not rot in jail for lack of police escorts for court appearances

BANGALORE: On July 2, Khoja Nagaraj, a resident of K.G. Halli, was produced from Bangalore Central Prison “digitally” before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate in the city using the videoconferencing facility. The Magistrate convicted him for stealing temple ornaments and sentenced him to three years’ simple imprisonment and fined him Rs. 6,000.

Nagaraj was one of the 100-odd undertrials lodged in the Bangalore Central Prison who were heard digitally in criminal cases conducted by 10 different city magistrates sitting 30 km away from the prison. Some undertrials had their say regarding cases against them. Others heard the charges against them. A few heard about witnesses who would give their evidence.

In this manner, city magistrates have started extensively using videoconferencing facilities at the Magistrate Court Complex and the Central Prison as undertrials often are not brought to court for lack of police escorts.

Magistrates are using videoconferencing during the process of recording evidence, for taking the statement of the accused and for pronouncing judgment. “We are trying to minimise the number of physical appearances and reduce hardship to undertrials. Each day of non-appearance leads to further delay in disposal of cases,” said a court official, who wished to remain anonymous.

In 2003, the videoconferencing unit was simultaneously installed in the Magistrate court complex and the Mayo Hall Court complex. This was after a similar unit was set up in the Special Court hearing the multi-crore stamp paper racket cases. The aim was to avoid the cost and time consumed in escorting undertrials from the Bangalore Central Prison to the courts and back. The magistrates started using videoconferencing from a cabin on the third floor of the Magistrate court complex in lieu of routine appearances of undertrials, while preferring physical presence for hearing criminal cases. On an average, there are about 450 inmates at the Central Prison who need to be produced before the court every day. Of them only 60 are escorted to the court, while about 200 inmates are heard through videoconferencing. The rest continue to wait for an opportunity to appear before the court. The situation has improved since the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing the use of videoconferencing in conducting criminal trials. The first in the State were the cases relating to prime accused in the multi-crore stamp paper racket Abdul Karim Telgi, who was digitally produced before various courts from Yerwada Central Prison in Pune.

City magistrates now rely on the apex court ruling to hear criminal cases. Each of the 10 magistrates in the Magistrate court complex makes use of the allotted time and conduct proceedings in the videoconferencing room every day. On an average, 120 undertrials are being heard daily. Recently, alterations were made in the videoconferencing room to give it the look of a court hall.

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