Sheela Barse v. State of Maharashtra [1983 SC 378]
The right to live with dignity under Article 21 was extended to female prisoners and the State was directed to make provisions for the protection of their rights via free legal aid and freedom from ill-treatment in prisons.
Bench – Rangnath Misra, P.N. Bhagwati, Amrendra Nath, R.S. Sen and M.M. Dutt.
Facts – Sheela Barse, a journalist, wrote to the Supreme Court of India to express her concern about the mistreatment of women in prison. She stated that five out of the fifteen women she contacted at Mumbai Central Jail made a complaint about the harassment and cruelty they were subjected to at the hands of police officers.
The Apex Court regarded her letter as a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution. Concurrently, the Director of the College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan, was directed to consult the women of Mumbai Central Jail in the absence of anybody else and determine whether or not the accusations made in the writ petition are accurate.
After interrogating the female inmates, the Director concluded in her report that “all of the accusations in the writ petition were factual.” Aside from that, there was no structure in place to provide legal support to female inmates. Two foreign nationals even claimed that a lawyer deceived and defrauded them, taking the majority of their money and jewellery under the guise of keeping his fee.
- Whether the bad treatment which the female prisoners have to deal with is defensible or not?
- Whether the ill treatment of the female prisoners can be considered as a violation of the rights enshrined under Article 21 of Constitution or not?
- Whether it is the obligation of the State Authorities to provide legal counsel to prisoners or not?
Judgment – The court ruled that poor people who are detained should be given legal representation, as required by Articles 14, 19, and 39A of the Constitution. The court ordered social workers to submit a presentation on female prisoners’ ill treatment in jails, if there are any. The Supreme Court also directed the Inspector of Jail to establish a “legal aid organisation” at the High Court and District Court levels.
The Court also directed that regulations be imposed on the Inspector General of Maharashtra Jail regarding the prisoners, and that a notification be given to all Maharashtra Superintendents for the purpose of ending a list of all the prisoners and crimes they have committed, with male and female details specified separately. The notice also includes the police officers to compile a list of the lawyers assigned to the inmates. This should be done in order to make detainees aware of their legal representation. The lawyers should have access to facilities so that they can meet with the detainees.
Finally, the Court set recommendations to ensure the safety of female inmates in prison. Firstly, female convicts should have their own lockups, which should only be monitored by female police personnel. The recommendations also included that female prisoners could only be interrogated when there are female officers present. Furthermore, every individual should be notified of the reason for his or her arrest as well as the availability of bail. A suspect who is female must be inspected only by a female police officer provided as under the Section 160 (1) of CrPC. Lastly and most importantly, the recommendations included that women prisoners shall not be allowed to be arrested after sunset or before sunrise.