‘Arthur road jail is an old-fashioned sweatbox’

Crime


Nirav Modi’s attorney Clare Montgomery also discussed the fugitive diamantaire’s mental health and said several people have declined to give evidence due to a ‘climate of fear’ in India.

IN LONDON The proceedings of Nirav Modi’s extradition trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday indicated that the issues of prison conditions and fair trial in India, and Nirav Modi’s mental health will figure prominently as the case progresses. Representing Modi, Clare Montgomery began the proceedings with a discussion on the Arthur Road jail where he will be lodged if extradited. She later discussed his struggles to get private counselling for his mental health problems and people declining to give evidence due to a “climate of fear”.

Montgomery said the general state of prisons in India is “shameful” and that the Arthur Road jail is an “old-fashioned sweatbox”. “The assurance (given by India on prison condition) is not assuring,” she said, and went on to speak about the prisons at great length. She cited statistics and observations from government figures, the National Human Rights Commission and the Bombay High Court to drive home the point that the jail has been consistently overcrowded, has inadequate facilities, is understaffed and has appalling medical facilities. The court heard about the high suicide rates and ineffective mechanism to inspect and monitor the situation.

On Monday, Helen Malcolm from the Crown Prosecution Service, representing India, had shown the court a short video on Barrack 12 in the Arthur Road jail. The video informed the court about its height (20 ft), windows, natural night, ventilation and fixtures comprising tube lights and fans.

Mental health concerns

On Tuesday, it also came out in full force, through Montgomery, that Nirav Modi is suffering from mental health problems. The 49-year-old was accessing the counselling facility in Wandsworth prison, where he has been kept since he was arrested in March 2019. “It’s not his wish that he should become as ill as he has become,” said Montgomery, alluding to a legal fight they have waged to get him private counselling, as the outbreak of Covid-19 disrupted prison provisions.

A high risk of suicide, Montgomery said, makes it imperative for the court to enquire whether there are proper facilities and appropriate arrangements in India. “What the government of India is saying about the management of Covid in Arthur Road jail does not add up,” she remarked.

Justice system in India

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s press conference in the wake of Justice (retd) Abhay Thipsay’s evidence on 13 May 2020 made a reappearance as the defence linked it with Nirav Modi’s right to a fair trial. Thipsay, who retired as a judge in 2017, appeared as a witness for Modi’s first hearing saying that the charges levelled against him by the CBI would not stand up under India law. The court was, however, told that Thipsay will not give live evidence on September 9.

In the coming days, the defence is also expected to provide evidence from a retired Supreme Court judge to the effect that there has been a significant decline in the integrity of the justice system in India. Montgomery said the Delhi riots and the Babri Masjid ruling showed that there has been deterioration in judicial independence, which is manifest in the conduct of the lower courts and investigative agencies. Without giving names, she said several people declined to give evidence due to a climate of fear.

Nirav Modi appeared through a video link and was given the opportunity to speak with his legal team during the lunch break.



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