Kolkata, August 17: The West Bengal government has directed the state’s prison authority to consider establishing video conferencing provisions to facilitate legal interviews and personal communication of inmates with their counsels and family members during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A letter has been sent by the Joint Secretary, West Bengal government to the ADG and IG of the state’s Correctional Services along with a representation made by Arjun Chowdhury, an advocate practicing at the Calcutta High Court.

Chowdhury had told the state government in a letter last month that lawyers were facing extreme difficulty due to the lockdown and the pandemic situation to meet their clients lodged in correctional homes across the state. He had submitted that jail inmates have legal rights to consult with their counsels to avail legal remedies as well as counsels are duty-bound to meet their clients lodged in prisons to provide them appropriate legal advice and services.

Chowdhury’s letter submitted that the West Bengal Correctional Administration Department is still continuing with the old procedure of legal interview through physical modes, wherein the counsels are required to submit their applications for the interviews before the concerned prison authorities at 10 AM and then they are allotted time to visit their clients in person in the prison.

He said the process of physical meetings poses the threat of not only the advocates  contracting coronavirus but also of the deadly virus spreading among a large number of prisoners even if one of them got infected with it.

“People are advised to work from their homes through internet and digital means and even the government offices are running online through various digital applications. Various meetings of the government are held through video conferencing and physical meetings are discouraged. The judiciary throughout the nation is also working virtually,” Chowdhury said in the letter addressed to the Secretary, Department of Correctional Administration of the West Bengal government.

“However, the cause of jail inmates and members of the legal fraternity have not been considered by the government and they are left to the mercy of god,” the letter said.

It mentioned that many states including Bihar, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Delhi have made arrangements for video conference interviews of jail inmates.

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