Mallya Case: UK laws require courts to assess condition of jails in India

Mallya Case: UK laws require courts to assess condition of jails in India

UK laws require courts to assess condition of jails in recipient country while deciding on extradition pleas

Even if New Delhi cries foul, the Westminster Magistrate's Court in London will continue to factor in the conditions of the jails in India while deciding on extradition of business tycoon Vijay Mallya from the United Kingdom.

New Delhi has conveyed to London its displeasure as the UK courts questioning the conditions of the jails in India while deciding on its pleas on extradition of the fugitives. But it is unlikely to deter the Westminster Magistrate's Court, which is hearing the plea for extradition of Vijay Mallya, from assessing the conditions and factoring in the prisons in India, because the Extradition Act 2003 and Human Rights Act 1998 of the UK require it to do so.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj recently quoted Prime Minister Narendra Modi told his British counterpart Theresa May that the UK courts should not raise questions about the conditions of the jails in India. She quoted Modi telling May that it was not befitting for the UK courts to ask about the condition of the jails in India, as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and countless others, who had fought for the country's freedom from colonial rule, had been incarcerated in the same prisons for seeking freedom for the country from colonial rule of British Raj.

Modi's strong words to May, however, are unlikely to make an impact on the legal proceedings at the Westminster Magistrate's Court on New Delhi's plea for extradition of Mallya, who is wanted in India for his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines' default on loans worth nearly Rs 9000 crore.

Sources in New Delhi told the DH that the the Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Section 87 of the UK Extradition Act 2003 could indeed prove to be a hurdle to bring the “King of Good Times” back to India, even if the judge of the Westminster Magistrate's Court found other statutory bars on extradition not applicable in his case.

The Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits torture, and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. The Section 87 of the UK Extradition Act 2003 mandated the court to turn down the plea for extradition of any person, in case it was not convinced that the extradition would no way put at risk her or his “convention rights within the meaning of the Human Rights Act 1998”.

The UK court could in fact cite the Article 3 of the European Commission on Human Rights to deny extradition of Mallya if “substantial grounds” were found for believing that he would face a “real risk” of being “subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” in India, sources aware of New Delhi's efforts to bring the business tycoon back said. 

The Central Bureau of Investigation already submitted before the UK court the details of the facilities available in the Mumbai Central Jail (a.k.a Arthur Road jail), where Mallya would be lodged in case he was extradited to India. The court, however, is likely to assess if the jail is overcrowded and whether or not it has enough toilets and medical facilities.

The data available on the website of the Prison Department of Maharashtra Government indicates that although the Arthur Road jail has an approved capacity to house 804 prisoners, it has accommodated 2922 last April.

The UK court will also assess whether or not Mallya, if extradited and lodged in Arthur Road jail in Mumbai, would be adequately protected in case any clash breaks out among the prisoners. 

The Westminster Magistrate's Court last year declined to extradite businessman Sanjeev Kumar Chawla, whom New Delhi wanted to be extradited to India to stand trial for his alleged role in fixing cricket matches between India and South Africa in 2000. He would have been lodged in Tihar Jail in Delhi in case of his extradition from the UK. The court ruled against his extradition, after taking into account overcrowding and lack of medical facilities as well as reports about clashes among prisoners in the Tihar Jail. The case is now before the High Court of the UK.

Mallya left India for the UK on March 2, 2016 – the day a consortium of 13 banks, which had given the loan to his company, moved the Debt Recovery Tribunal to step up pressure on him to return the money. India in February 2017 asked the UK to extradite him.

He was arrested by UK police and was produced before the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London on April 18 last year for extradition hearing and was granted conditional bail. The hearing on the plea for his extradition has since been going on at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London and it is slated to resume in July.