The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sorabjee slams barter tactic for prisoners

New Delhi, Aug. 24 (PTI): Attorney-general Soli Sorabjee has objected to the government’s stand that it would not release Pakistani prisoners even after they had served their sentence unless Indians lodged in Pakistan are set free.

“To my mind, such a stand is legally untenable apart from adverse repercussions it will have on the image of India internationally. Prisoners cannot be used as hostages or used as levers for bargaining,” he said in a letter to home secretary . Gopalaswami.

“The Government of India’s stand emanated from the fact that Pakistan was not acceding to its request for release of Indian prisoners as per its requirement,” a source said, quoting the letter.

According to sources, the attorney-general has made it clear that the fundamental right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution extended to foreigners.

In the letter, Sorabjee has conveyed to the government a Supreme Court bench’s view expressed on Thursday that Pakistani nationals who have served their sentence should be deported.

During an earlier hearing regarding 14 Pakistani prisoners, the government, through additional solicitor-general Altaf Ahmed, had said that some of these prisoners were being kept in detention to enable India to secure the release of its citizens lodged in Pakistani jails.

Sorabjee said the apex court was not concerned with the acts or omissions of another foreign government, but India has to act in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the law irrespective of the behaviour of the Pakistani government.

The court was firmly of the opinion that those who have served sentences be released forthwith. It had adjourned the matter on the request of the attorney-general till September 2 while directing the government to pass appropriate orders for deportation of the Pakistani prisoners after examining each case.

The sources said Sorabjee discussed the two problems cited by government officials in deporting the prisoners — Pakistani authorities may not accept them at the border and these prisoners may re-enter India.

Sorabjee said the first objection did not appear realistic as Islamabad has expressed its willingness to accept some of the prisoners. On the second count, he said, the authorities were free to re-arrest them if they entered India again, the sources added.

Conceding that the government had the power to detain these prisoners, Sorabjee stressed that if the period of detention was indefinite, such orders were liable to be struck down as the government had openly conveyed its stand in the court that it was keeping them as hostages.

“The best course would be to pass orders for deportation as the prisoners themselves have sought so,” a source said, quoting Sorabjee’s letter.

Tough talk for judges

Sorabjee has called for an effective and expeditious mechanism to tackle judicial misconduct but cautioned against denigrating the entire institution for the lapses of a few.

“An overwhelming majority of judges are honest, conscientious and hardworking. There might be some deviant judges,” Sorabjee said.

The attorney-general was delivering a lecture on State of Legal and Judicial Systems in India last night at a conference in Hyderabad.

organised by the Institute of Asian Studies in the Administrative Staff College of India.

Exhorting the bar to play a crucial role in checking judicial corruption, Sorabjee said: “No judge could be corrupt without the cooperation of the bar.”

He, however, cautioned the media against denigrating the entire institution of judiciary because of lapses on the part of a few judges.

Emphasising that the present procedure for removal of a judge was not satisfactory, he said there was need for an effective and expeditious mechanism to deal with judicial misconduct.

Citing various reasons for delay in delivery of justice, Sorabjee urged the bar, bench and government to play their respective roles effectively in redemption of the system. “Justice delayed is not only justice denied but also undermines the rule of law,” he said.

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