Prisoners have the right to unmonitored conversations with their spouses, says Madras HC

THE Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has allowed a remand prisoner to meet his ailing wife while acknowledging the fundamental right of prisoners to unmonitored conversations with their spouses.

“While private prison cottages may be a distant prospect, the privacy and dignity of the prisoners should be scrupulously protected. Conversations between a prisoner and his spouse should be unmonitored,” a single-judge bench of Justice G R Swaminathan.

The judge relied on the Supreme Court’s rulings on the right to privacy in Justice K S Puttaswamy (Retd) v Union of India and Navtej Singh Johar & others v Union of India and on the observations of the Punjab and Haryana High Court on the right to procreation in Jasvir Singh and another v State of Punjab to read down Rule 531 (2) of the Tamil Nadu Prison Rules to add “when a prisoner meets his wife, he may like to hold her hands. His emotions are bound to be finding a physical expression”. Tamil Nadu prison rule 531(2) provides that “every meeting with a convicted person should take place in the presence of an experienced officer”.

The court held that this rule could not be applied during meetings between spouses in view of  Section 122 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 which treats the communication between spouses during a marriage as privileged. While also examining Rule 529 of Tamil Nadu Prison Rules which provides that the place of interview will be at or near the main gate, the court ordered the prison authorities to make an exemption for spousal meetings.


Right to dignity not confined only to “good people”


Referring to the 2016 Supreme Court judgment on the rights of prisoners in In Re Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisons, the Madras High Court said that the right to life and dignity was not confined only to “good people” but was available even to “prisoners, murderers and even traitors”.

“Mohamed Shalin is no doubt a prisoner but he is a person too… A prisoner is also entitled to the expansive interpretation of the term ‘life’ occurring in Article 21 to the extent the context permits. Incarceration or conviction does not reduce the prisoner into a non-person,” Justice Swaminathan said.


Background of the case


Mohammad Shalin is a remand prisoner under the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act, 2008 for his alleged involvement in a bomb blast. Shalin’s sister, Rahmath Nisha, had filed a writ petition to allow her brother to meet his ailing wife in hospital after an NIA court turned down his request.

The NIA court had permitted Shalin to meet his wife at his home. However, when he reached his house his spouse had already been taken to the hospital. The escorting police refused to take Shalin to hospital, strictly following the orders of the NIA court which said he was only allowed “to meet spouse at home”.