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SC bats for rights of death row convicts

‘Allow them to meet family, lawyers’

Death row convicts should be allowed to meet with family, friends, lawyers and mental health professionals for a “reasonable period of time with reasonable frequency” like any other prisoner.

It is part of their fundamental right to dignity and equality, the Supreme Court held in a judgment on Thursday.

Entitlement of prisoners

“With regard to the entitlement of a prisoner on death row to have meetings and interviews with his lawyers or members of his immediate family or even mental health professionals, we are of opinion that such meetings and interviews should be permitted,” a three-judge Bench, led by Justice Madan B. Lokur, observed.

The court said prison manuals or laws depriving condemned prisoners of their basic rights should be nixed.

The judgment came after the court took suo motu cognisance of the rights of the incarcerated and conditions in prisons across the country.

One of the issues specifically pertained to the right of the condemned; the extension of their right to be treated on a par with other convicted prisoners and the facilities allowed to them.

The judgment, however, does not delve into questions like at what specific point a person becomes a death row convict — is it when he is sentenced to death by a trial court or much later when all his remedies have been exhausted and he waits for his execution at the hands of the State.

Solitary confinement

The judgment mentions submissions made to solitary confinement of prisoners on death row. Here too, the court banks on generalities, referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and reiterating that right to life includes the “right to live with human dignity.”

Prison manuals or laws depriving condemned prisoners of their basic rights should be nixed

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