The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to entertain a petition seeking production of undertrials before courts through the virtual mode, saying “the idea is good but the practical application creates a lot of difficulty”.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Uday Umesh Lalit, and also including Justices SR Bhat and Bela M Trivedi, observed that an accused going to court is “fundamental to the criminal system” and allowed advocate Rishi Malhotra, who had filed the petition, to withdraw the plea.
CJI Lalit said, “I visited one of the jails in Mumbai… where there are about six terminals which can facilitate the presence of an accused during the trial through virtual mode. There are a number of accused. So at a time, only six persons can avail of that benefit.”
At the outset, Mr Malhotra said it had become a “routine affair in the trial courts that every now and then an undertrial has to be produced in court”. He said this endangers the lives of judicial officers, undertrials as well as the public.
On his prayer to produce undertrials in court through video conference, the CJI said, “If there are a number of accused who cannot be produced even through virtual mode, what it means is that all those trial courts will be obliged to adjourn the matters.”
The petitioner, while pitching for production of undertrial prisoners, especially gangsters, through videoconference, had said it would balance the safety of the public and judicial officers with the rights of the accused.
“The fulcrum of the instant public interest litigation is to prevent various trial courts across India to insist on presence of undertrials on each and every date as a matter of routine practice, thereby not only endangering the safety of public as well as judicial officers but also facilitating the opportunity of hard-core prisoners from escaping from the custody of the police,” it said.
The plea referred to several incidents in trial courts, including the September firing incident inside a district court in Delhi last year, when three people, including a jailed gangster, were killed.
While referring to various provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), it said they provide powers to the court concerned to dispense with the personal appearance of undertrials who are brought from jails during normal trial proceedings.
The plea said section 267 of the CrPC, which deals with the power of the trial court to require attendance of a prisoner from jail, gives discretion to the trial judge to order attendance of a prisoner from the prison.