On 8th March 2013, International Bridges to Justice (India) endeavored to inform convicted inmates in Tihar Jail (New Delhi) about their rights, focusing on the right to appeal but also the entitlement to parole, furlough and remission of sentences. 35 detainees attended the event in the meditation hall of New Delhi’s Central Prison.

Ajay Verma, Advocate and IBJ’s fellow in India started the session with a short presentation of the organization before asking the inmates if any of them had been sentenced recently, which triggered three hands raised. Most of the convicts actually filed an appeal but those cases were still pending, sometimes for years, in contradiction with the right to a speedy trial. For instance, one of the participants related that he already served 9 years of a 10 years of sentence awarded to him, although an appeal was lodged 4 years ago through a legal aid lawyer and the same is still pending. Two other inmates underwent an acquittal order reversed by the High Court but no appeal was thrown to the Supreme Court by their lawyers, underlining the lack of communication between clients and some advocates in India. IBJ took the appeal numbers of the pending cases in order to figure out the reasons why the proceedings are following such a slow pace.

Over the discussion about the right to appeal, the only case which had reached the Supreme Court and was supposed to be definitive highlighted again the plight of the juveniles treated as adults by the judicial and prison authorities. In that case, seven members of a family were convicted, including the youngest brother who was sentenced to life, although he was only 17 years old when he committed the crime. The Supreme Court confirmed the High Court’s judgment, probably because of the lack of evidence regarding the juvenility of the accused. Indeed, the minor’s brother pointed out during the session that the family wasn’t able to produce any birth or school certificate before the judges. Nevertheless, the claim of doubts on the age of the accused was never heeded by the judicial authorities and no ossification test was ordered. Mr. Verma suggested that a writ petition may be filed by him to Hon’ble High Court of Delhi after taking into account the judgment of Hon’ble Supreme Court of India passed in the Criminal Appeal No. 1193 of 2006 Titiled as “ Abuzar Hossain@ Gulam Hossain Vs State of West Bengal” decided on 10 October 2010 where in Hon’ble Apex court in Para 36 (ii) has held that “…..For making a claim wit regard to juvenility after conviction the claimant must produce some material  which prima facie satisfy the court that an inquiry into the claim of juvenility is necessary. Initial burden has to be discharged by the person who claims juvenility….”so as to raise the issue of the juvenility of the convict.

Further on, parole and furlough topics were discussed. One of the detainees recounted that he spent 2 years in Tihar but was never granted parole. Ajay Verma replied by reminding him that he was entitled to challenge a denial of parole before the High Court. They also added that the behavior of the legal aid society within the wards of the jail was worsening the situation since the parole applications are rarely forwarded to the appropriate Authority. As a result, the right of parole of short-term sentence is often hindered, on the opposite of long-term sentence who have more time ahead not to be bothered by the slow speed of the proceedings.

The discussion lasted almost two hours, with a satisfying outcome for IBJ since a few cases are going to be taken up by the organization.