UK Court Accepts Assurances About Indian Prisons in Sanjeev Chawla Extradition Case

Bookie Sanjeev Chawla's case, who stands accused of acting as a conduit for fixing cricket matches between the former captain of the South African test team Hansie Cronje, may just help move along Vijay Mallya’s extradition.

London: In what could be a significant victory for India in extradition cases in the UK, the high court in London has accepted the assurances given by India regarding the condition of Tihar jail to re-open the extradition proceedings at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court against bookie Sanjeev Chawla.

Chawla has been accused of acting as a conduit between Hansie Cronje, then captain of the South African test cricket team, and bookies who wanted to fix cricket matches between January and March 2000. He moved to UK in 1996 and was arrested in London in June 2016. He was brought before the Westminster Magistrates’ Court when his trial began on July 12, 2016.

Also read: Plans of a Swanky Prison Cell for Vijay Mallya Violate Equality Before Law

Prison conditions 

Sanjeev Chawla.

Chawla’s main defence was that the conditions of the prison, where he would be kept during his trial and after any conviction, were not compatible with Article 3 of ECHR  that states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

One bit of evidence that Chawla produced in court was a report by Alan Mitchell, a prison expert, who also gave testimony in liquor baron Vijay Mallya’s case. India had refused to provide Mitchell access to Tihar jail, so the report was based primarily on press reports. The report set out details regarding overcrowding, poor management and violence against prisoners.

District judge Rebecca Crane had concluded that Mitchell is “able to provide an objective analysis of the other information available” and that there were “strong grounds for believing that Chawla would be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the Tihar prison complex, due to the overcrowding, the lack of medical provision, risk of being subjected to torture and violence either from other inmates or prison staff which is endemic in Tihar” and ordered his discharge. 

Also read: Why ‘Deplorable’ Prison Conditions in India Are Major Hurdle to Bringing Back Mallya

This judgement took into consideration an assurance given by India on February 28, 2017. But a second assurance given on September 22, 2017, the last day of the hearing, was not considered by the district judge who noted that it was “18 months after the initial request for extradition, 15 months after the issue had been raised, and in breach of the order for directions on 19 May 2017”.

However, in its conclusion, the judge gave India an opportunity to appeal by providing a third assurance that addresses issues of personal space, toilet facilities, risk from inter-prisoner violence in high security wards and guarantee of medical treatment.

High court appeal

India appealed against the order of the district judge in the high court on April 24, 2018. The division bench of Lord Justice Leggatt and Justice Dingemans specifically looked at the assurances given by India to merit re-opening of the case.

The third assurance, dated June 11, 2018, was signed by the joint secretary to the Government of India and claimed that Chawla would be accommodated in a cell exclusive to him, thus ensuring proper safety and security. He would also be placed in a ward where inmates have not violated any prison rules, and not in the high security ward where there are outbreaks of violence, India said.

The Indian government also assured the court that the cell would be approximately 6 square metres., excluding the toilet and would comply with the standards UK courts adhere to regarding personal space and hygiene requirements. More so, security cameras, monitored 24×7, would help meet any security concerns the courts have. In terms of medical care, India said there are 86 medical officers available and a 200-bed hospital on the premises. India assured the court that Chawla would receive immediate medical attention if required.

Mark Summers of the Crown Prosecution Service, representing India, argued that four cells have been identified to provide operational flexibility but none of which are in high security wards. He also reiterated that assurances from India was a solemn diplomatic assurance provided to the court.

Also read: ‘Clear-Cut Collusion’ Between Arun Jaitley and ‘Criminal’ Vijay Mallya: Rahul Gandhi

After taking into consideration the third assurance (which was not provided to the district judge), the divisional bench quashed the earlier discharge of Chawla and concluded that the terms of the third assurance “are sufficient to show that there will be no real risk that Chawla will be subjected to impermissible treatment in Tihar prisons”. The case has been remitted to the district judge, who has been directed to proceed as if she had not ordered Chawla’s discharge.

Similarities with Vijay Mallya’s extradition trial

Prison conditions were also cited as an important factor to argue against Mallya’s extradition. Mallya’s defence Clare Montgomery brought Alan Mitchell as a witness to give evidence on the condition of Indian jails and also Professor Lau to give evidence about the Indian criminal justice (he was a witness in Chawla’s case too). Personal hygiene, medical conditions and safety were cited as important reasons to discredit the Arthur Road jail where Mallya would be lodged during his trial.

Mark Summer and Aaron Watkins, who represented India in the Chawla case, are also the prosecutors in the Mallya case. India has also provided assurances on prison conditions in Mallya’s case. District judge Emma Arbuthnot asked India to provide further photographic evidence. When that was contested by Montogomery as being staged, she asked for video evidence which the CBI supplied towards the end of the trial. She has agreed to consider the evidence in her judgement.

Today’s high court decision overturning Chawla’s discharge based on prison conditions, may just have the beleaguered liquor baron more and more worried what his fate may hand him next month.