Indian prison conditions in focus as Vijay Mallya hearing nears in UK
London, Apr 24: Violence and overcrowding in Indian jails and the adequate provision of medical assistance to inmates came into focus today during an extradition appeal involving alleged bookie Sanjeev Kumar Chawla in the High Court in London.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of the Indian government to extradite Chawla to stand trial in India as a key accused in the cricket match-fixing scandal involving former South African captain Hansie Cronje in 2000, sought to overturn a lower court judgment against extradition on human rights grounds. The hearing comes just days before liquor baron Vijay Mallya is due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London on Friday for one of the final hearings in his extradition trial, which opened in December last year.
The 62-year-old businessman's defence team, led by Clare Montgomery, has also argued that India’s jail cells are unsafe and used the same UK prisons expert as Chawla’s team, Dr Alan Mitchell, to back up their claims.
"This is not an administration that is blind or deliberately closing its eyes," CPS barrister Mark Summers told the High Court t to assert that the Indian authorities are willing to provide any further assurances required for the extradition to go ahead. Summers, who is also arguing for India in Mallya’s case, stressed that Chawla would receive adequate medical care if he were extradited and held in Tihar Jail, pointing out that there was no evidence of any deaths in the jail due to medical negligence.
He dismissed allegations of endemic violence in Delhi's largest jail, adding that any cases of violence were limited to "occasional outbursts" of gang violence. However, Chawla's barrister quoted from Indian press reports to highlight recent incidents of inmates being beaten up in the Delhi jail, most recently in November last year, and two cases mysterious deaths involving Tihar inmates to back up her argument that the extradition falls foul of the Article 3 requirements of the UK’s Human Rights Act.
"There is a gulf between rules which exist and the reality," noted Chawla’s barrister Helen Malcolm. Both sides are seeking to overturn District Judge Rebecca Crane’s October 2017 ruling at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, which concluded that despite a prima facie case being established against the alleged bookie, his extradition did not meet the human rights threshold under the India-UK Extradition Treaty. "India’s own Supreme Court in 2016 has detailed that overcrowding remains a problem and that prison reforms have led to little change in practice," Crane noted in her judgment, based heavily on the expert witness of Dr Mitchell, former head of healthcare at the Scottish Prison Service and an elected member of the European Council’s European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).
When deposing for the defence side during the Mallya trial in December last year, Mitchell relied heavily upon his past inspection visit to Alipore Jail in Kolkata and also on an account of the prison conditions in Puzhal Jail in Chennai, from where one of six former British soldiers – referred to as the Chennai Six – had recently been released.
He had argued that conditions in all Indian jails are “far from satisfactory”. In his cross-examination during the Mallya trial, CPS counsel Mark Summers had noted how the same prison expert’s testimony had proved critical in the extradition case of alleged bookie Chawla and highlighted that Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai cannot be compared with prisons in other parts of India as Barrack 12, where Mallya is to be held if extradited, is a self-contained facility.
Mallya, who is wanted in India on alleged fraud and money laundering allegations amounting to nearly Rs 9,000 crores related to his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines, will be back in the dock at Westminster Magistrates’ Court for closing submissions in his case on Friday. Judge Emma Arbuthnot is set to lay out a timeframe for a judgment in the case, expected by next month. Meanwhile, a High Court ruling on the Indian government's appeal in the Chawla case is expected in the coming weeks. In both extradition cases, the CPS has highlighted the Indian government’s “diplomatic assurances” that international prison norms will be adhered to.