Equivalent citations: 1979 AIR 1369, 1979 SCR (3) 532
Bench: Bhagwati, P.N.
Hussainara Khatoon & Ors. was a landmark decision ruled on March 9, 1979, that gave broader meaning to Article 21 and stated that everyone has the right to a prompt trial. It is the most well-known case involving the human rights of Indian inmates.
The Supreme Court stated that the State must provide free legal assistance and a quick trial to administer justice.
In 1979, the publication Indian Express published an article about the incarceration of under-trial convicts in the Bihar jail. Few of these under-trial inmates had been incarcerated for very long periods, in some cases for far longer than the courts had ordered.
Advocate Pushpa Kapila Hingorani was one of the article’s readers, and she filed a lawsuit before the Supreme Court of India as a Public Interest Litigation. Advocate Pushpa Kapila Hingorani is known as the “Mother of Public Interest Litigation in India” since this was the first documented case of PIL in India.
A writ of habeas corpus was brought before the Court under Story 32, requesting the release of 17 under-trial convicts whose identities were revealed in a newspaper article in Bihar. The state of Bihar was ordered to provide a revised chart displaying the year-by-year breakdown of the under-trial inmates, after separating them into two main categories: minor offenses and serious offenses.
- Should the right to a quick trial be included in Article 21?
- Is it possible for the law to compel the provision of free legal assistance?
Many under-trial inmates incarcerated in the Patna Central Jail, the Muzaffarpur Central Jail, and the Ranchi Central Jail before their release have been routinely presented before the Magistrates and remanded to judicial custody as needed, according to the counter-affidavit submitted to the Court.
These allegations, however, were ruled unacceptable by the Court because they failed to comply with the requirement to show the dates on which these under-trial detainees were detained.
Furthermore, to excuse the pending cases, it has been claimed that in nearly 10% of the instances, the investigation is stalled owing to a delay in receiving expert opinions.
The Court ordered that these under-trial detainees, whose names and addresses were recorded in Mrs. Hingorani’s list, be released because their continued detention was considered illegal and a violation of their fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution because they had been in prison for a period exceeding the maximum term for which they should have been indicted.
The Court also agreed that on subsequent remand dates, when undertrial detainees accused of bailable offenses are brought before the Magistrates, the State Government should appoint a lawyer at its own expense to file a bail application, thereby limiting remand and allowing for a quick trial to begin.
The State Government and the High Court were obliged to submit information on the locations of the magistrate and session courts in Bihar, as well as the total number of cases outstanding in each court as of December 31, 1978.
They were also required to explain why it was not practicable to resolve matters that had been outstanding for more than six months.
In the United States, a speedy trial is a constitutionally protected right.
A person who has been arrested or imprisoned has the right to a trial within a reasonable time, according to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. As a result, the court held that “a speedy trial is essential to criminal justice, and there can be no question that a delay in trial alone constitutes a deprivation of justice.”
As a result, under Article 21 of the constitution, the right to a quick trial was recognized as a basic right of the prisoner. The possibility of some of them being exonerated of the charges against them after spending a long time in jail for crimes they were later proven not to have done is a grave infringement of their liberty.
The court also believed that the Indian bail system at the time was skewed against the poor, who could not always afford to hire a lawyer to represent them, and recommended a significant overhaul. A system that denies the poor the right to legal representation cannot be deemed reasonable or equitable.
According to the court, while granting personal bond bail, the accused’s roots in the community must be examined to prevent him from leaving, which include:
- The length of his stay in the neighborhood,
- His job status, background, and financial situation, as well as his family and relationships,
- His character, mental state, and reputation
- His criminal record, as well as his appearances in court, are both impressive.
- the names of respectable community people who might attest for his trustworthiness,
- The nature of the alleged crime and the likelihood of conviction
- Any additional evidence pointing to the accused’s links to the com
The significance of this case may be seen in the fact that almost 40,000 people who were awaiting trial were freed as a result of the decision. The case inspired several socially concerned people and attorneys to speak out on behalf of the poor and to use the broad scope of Public Interest Litigation to get justice.