An Additional Sessions Judge has allowed an undertrial man accused of links to Maoists groups limited access to the internet to conduct legal research. (Roopesh v. State of Kerala)
The petitioner, Roopesh, had approached the court seeking permission to access the internet for legal research to prepare for his defence in the cases he faces.
Roopesh, appearing party in person, argued that access to the internet was a fundamental right and that the Kerala Prison Rules permitted foreign citizens lodged in Kerala’s prisons to access the Internet for legal aid. Therefore, it was discriminatory to deny him a similar right, he argued.
While the Additional Sessions Judge P Krishna Kumar found some merit in these submissions, he observed that the risks of allowing internet access to a prisoner could not be ignored.
"When it is declared by the constitutional courts that right to legal aid and right to use Internet are fundamental rights, the petitioner has every justification in asking permission to use the same for accessing legal materials to properly defend his case, in the absence of any prohibition in the prison laws. But the exercise of that right depends upon the availability of that facility in the prison and the capability of the prison authorities to provide it to the petitioner or any other person who demands it, without compromising the risk elements involved. Such a facility can be provided to a person only if there is enough mechanism to regulate its use in a reasonable manner and also to prevent the misuse of the same.", the judge stated.
In asserting that he has a right to access the internet, Roopesh relied on the following judgments:
Faheema Sherin v. State of Kerala - a Kerala High Court ruling that declared access to the internet a fundamental right),
L Prakash v. Superintendent, Puzhal Central Prison - a Madras High Court order that allowed a prisoner to use the internet for legal education, and
T Nagireddi vs. State of Andhra Pradesh - an Andhra Pradesh High Court ruling from 1971 that allowed a jailed Naxalite to use a typewriter in prison to communicate with the court. This decision also sought more facilities for undertrials given the fact that the law presumes undertrials as innocent till proved guilty.
Roopesh additionally submitted that the Viyyur Central Jail, where he is housed, has both a television and an FM radio that uses the internet. These were operated by the prisoners themselves, he pointed out to the Judge.
Acknowledging his submissions, the Court stated that his prayers cannot be fully be given effect to considering the risks. Therefore, the Court directed the petitioner to make a request to either the State Legal Services Authority or the Police Superintendent to make available their legal resources to him.
In the meanwhile, the prison authorities have been directed to allow Roopesh weekly internet access for 45-minutes to avail online legal resources such as those on the official websites of the Supreme Court and High Courts and sites such as Indian Kanoon, India Code, etc. for research.
The Court has also enjoined the prison authorities to monitor his screen activity and install a hardware firewall to prevent the internet from being used for illegal activity.
In the course of its order, the Court was also appreciative of Roopesh’s legal prowess, citing its experiences with his defence in the cases filed against him. The Judge remarked:
"This court had the opportunity to see the legal acumen of the petitioner on a number of occasions. He always comes prepared to address the court with suitable precedents and legal provisions. He is a law graduate."
Roopesh has been accused of being a Maoist leader and has been in judicial custody since 2015. He has nearly 40 criminal charges laid against him.
Last year, the Kerala High Court quashed sedition against him while only last month two cases against him under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act were closed.
Read the Judgment