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"Prisoners are entitled to all constitutional rights unless their liberty has been constitutionally curtailed. His interest in the limited liberty left to him is then all the more substantial. Conviction for crime does not reduce the person into a non person whose rights are subject to the whim of the prison administration... therefore, any imposition of any major punishment within the prison system is conditional upon the observance of procedural safeguards... The liberty to move, mix, mingle, talk, share company with co-prisoners if substantially curtailed, would be violative of Article 21 unless the curtailments has the backing of law.. The word 'law' in the expression 'procedure established by law' in Article 21 has been interpreted to mean... law which is right, just and fair, and not arbitrary, fanciful or oppressive."

- The Supreme Court in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, (1978) 4 SCC 494, (at 568, 574).


The Supreme Court has come a long way from the case of A. K. Gopalan, where it denied to a detenu the protection of all fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The anxiety of the Supreme Court for reorientation of the outlook towards prisoners and the need to take early and effective steps for prison reforms is now legend. The Supreme Court has held:

  •  Judicial custody of  an undertrial beyond the period of maximum punishment on conviction was violative of the right to life and liberty.

  • The right to speedy trial is a fundamental right implicit in the guarantee of life and personal liberty and an essential ingredient of 'reasonable, fair and just' procedure.

  • The right to free legal services is implicit in Article 21 without which the procedure cannot be said to be 'reasonable, fair and just' to those who cannot secure such services.


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