October 4, 2022

The case of Hussainara Khatoon

This case originated when a writ petition was filed to release the prisoners who were languishing in the prison of State of Bihar, they had been in jail for periods longer than the maximum term for which they could have been sentenced; if convicted.

Those under-trial prisoners had been in jail for a period of over six to seven years, Therefore, after receiving the writ petition, the court checked if the requirement of the proviso to section 167(2) of Cr.P.C was complied with in their case. The court further directed that the affidavit giving these particulars should be filed by the State Government within three weeks.

The court said that the state of under-trial prisoners discloses a shocking state of affairs and betrays complete lack of concern for human values. It exposes the callousness of our legal and judicial system which can remain unmoved by such enormous misery and suffering resulting from totally unjustified deprivation of personal liberty.

The court further said that,

“It is indeed difficult for us to understand how the State Government could possibly remain oblivious to the continued incarceration of these under- trial prisoners for years without even their trial having commenced. The judiciary in the State of Bihar also cannot escape its share of blame because it could not have been unware of the fact that thousands of under-trial prisoners are languishing in jail awaiting trial which never seems to commence.”

Therefore, the court directed that those under-trial prisoners should be released as continuance of their detention is clearly illegal and in violation of their fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution.

In this case, the court directed the state to start the program of free legal aid to such under trial prisoners who are unable to fight their case due to gross poverty. The court also propounded the principle of Speedy trial and made it fundamental right under article 21 of Indian constitution.

Reference

Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State of Bihar: 1979 AIR 1369, 1979 SCR (3) 532