In pursuance of IBJ’s mission in India, the Duty Lawyers Project team conducted an interactive session with the inmates of Rohini District Jail in New Delhi on February 10, 2012. IBJ was represented by Mr. Ajay Verma, and Ms. Pujya Pascal along with two volunteer advocates, Mr. Avinindar Singh and Ms. Karuna Nundy. While Mr. Singh specializes in criminal law, Ms. Nundy is a specialist in juvenile justice and the rights of children.

The session began with a brief introduction of IBJ and its Duty Lawyers Project by Mr. Ajay Verma. He moderated the discussions that followed and briefly touched upon the topics for the day’s session – bail as a right, juvenile justice, case laws pertaining to bail, and the importance of client-lawyer interaction.

There were about 350 undertrial prisoners who had gathered for the session. Most of them were first time offenders with detention periods ranging between 4 days to 11 months. The ones in detention for a longer period were accused of serious offences such as drug trafficking, dowry death and murder.

Mr. Verma began by asking two very basic questions to the prisoners. He asked how many inmates did not have lawyers and how many had not applied for bail. About 20 prisoners said they did not have a lawyer, and about an equal number of inmates said they hadn’t filed for bail at the time. Those who had not filed for bail either did not know that they were eligible for bail or they did not have a lawyer who could file a bail application on their behalf.

Mr. Verma emphasized on the right to bail in bailable and other petty offenses.  He also made it clear that if the police or the prosecution had failed to file charges within the stipulated time-frame (60-90 days from the date of arrest), then the accused had a right to file for bail. Upon hearing Mr. Verma’s presentation on right to bail, a few inmates began to inquire about the nature of their offences and their eligibility for bail. Among those present, there were also five foreign nationals (from Nigeria) for whom a separate question and answer session was conducted in English.

Mr. Avinindar Singh alluded to a recent Supreme Court judgment on the right to bail and answered some of the questions related to bailable and non-bailable offences, fair trial and the court’s role in granting bail to the defendant. Ajay Verma steered the talk towards the efficacy of client-lawyer interaction and said that interaction is key to the success of any case. He laid the onus on the clients as much as the lawyers to ensure there’s a fair trial.