Hussainaira Khatoon v. State of Bihar [1979 AIR 1369]

It discusses a broader interpretation of Article 21 and holds that a speedy trial is a fundamental right of all citizens. The case also addressed the human rights of prisoners, stating that prisoners should be provided with free legal aid and a speedy trial.

Bench – PN Bhagwati and N Desai.

Facts – A habeas corpus writ petition was submitted before the Court as per Article 32 for the purpose of discharge of 17 under-trial prisoners whose names were noted in a news article in Bihar. The State of Bihar had been ordered to issue an updated chart that shows the year-by-year breakdown of under-trial inmates after categorising them into two categories: those charged with minor offences and those charged with major ones.

Issues – 

  • Whether Article 21 encases the right to a speedy trial or not?
  • Whether the judiciary has the authority to compel the availability of free legal aid or not?

Judgment – The Court ordered that the under-trial prisoners in question, whose names and specifics are listed in the list submitted by Mrs. Hingorani, be discharged immediately because their continued detainment is illegal and violates their fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution since they have been in prison for a period of time that exceeds the highest term for which they should have been sentenced.

Furthermore, the Court ruled that under Article 21 of Indian Constitution, it is the right of individuals to get a speedy trial as well as to avail the legal aid provided by the State authorities in the pursuance of Justice. The court ordered that on the next detainment dates, when the under-trial prisoners sentenced with bailable offences are delivered before the Magistrates, the Government designate a lawyer at its own expense to submit an application for bail and oppose remand, given that no opposition is brought up to such a lawyer on their behalf and with the goal of executing a speedy trial. The court also possessed the opinion that the then-existing bail system in India was biased against the poor, who could not always afford a lawyer to represent them, and recommended a dramatic shift. A system that denies the poor legal representation cannot be regarded as just or fair. The court stated in its decision that the State cannot deny the accused\’s constitutional right to a speedy trial by claiming financial or administrative incapability, and that it was past time to implement a system of bails on private bonds similar to those used in Western countries.

The State Government and the High Court were obliged to provide information on the locations of the magistrates\’ and sessions\’ courts in Bihar, as well as the total number of cases outstanding in each court as of December 31, 1978. The court ordered the authorities to also explain the ratio behind disposition of those cases that have been due for more than six months.

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