The Supreme Court Thursday said death-row convicts should be entitled to meet family members, lawyers and mental health professionals so that their rights are adequately protected at all stages.
A bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur said this while dealing with an application which had said that prisoners sentenced to death by any court have a right to be treated at par with other convicted prisoners and should be provided all similar facilities as are provided to others in jail.
The application had also sought a direction that solitary confinement of death row convicts or their separate and cellular confinement be struck down as unconstitutional.
The bench requested the Justice (retd) Amitava Roy committee, constituted by the top court to look into aspects of jail reforms across India, to look into the issues raised in the application in "greater depth".
The bench, which also comprised Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta, observed that the issue as to when a convict should be considered as a "death row prisoner" must be dealt with in a "humanitarian and compassionate manner".
Referring to an earlier verdict of the top court, the bench said the law laid down in this regard was quite clear that a prisoner under sentence of death can only mean a prisoner whose capital punishment has become final, conclusive and indefeasible and which cannot be annulled and voided by any judicial or constitutional procedure.
"In other words, a prisoner can be said to be a prisoner on death row when his sentence is beyond judicial scrutiny and would be operative without any intervention from any other authority. Till then, such a prisoner cannot be said to be under a sentence of death in the context of Section 30 of the Prisons Act, 1894," the bench noted in its order.
"In our opinion, the decisions of this court have quite clearly defined when a prisoner could be said to be on death row and have also taken care of the rights of prisoners on death row as well as those who are a security risk. No further elucidation is necessary," the court said.
The bench said rights of prisoners, as enunciated by the top court, should be available in all the states and union territory administrations and they must modify the prison manuals, regulations and rules accordingly.
"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," the bench said.
It referred to earlier verdicts delivered by the top court and noted that a death-row convict was entitled to move within the confines of prison like any other convict undergoing rigorous imprisonment.
"However, certain restrictions may be necessary for security reasons, but even then, it would be necessary to comply with natural justice provisions with an entitlement to file an appeal," the bench noted in its order.
On September 25, the top court had constituted a three-member committee, headed by Justice (retd) Roy, to look into the aspect of jail reforms across India and make recommendations on aspects, including overcrowding in prisons.
The court had said the committee would also comprise Inspector General of Police of Bureau of Police Research and Development and Director General (Prisons) of Delhi's Tihar Jail.
The court had passed the order while hearing a matter relating to inhuman conditions in 1,382 prisons across India.
It had earlier taken strong exception to overcrowding of jails across the country and said prisoners also have human rights and cannot be kept like "animals".
The court had earlier passed a slew of directions over unnatural deaths in jails and on prison reforms across India