Two central philosophies anchor the commonly accepted notion of criminal justice. The first is a zealous requirement for increased conviction rates. The second is the perception that those people in prison deserve punishment rather than rehabilitation. Both of these philosophies have especially grave consequences for the poor and marginalized. In this context, the Criminal Justice Initiative provides pro bono and low cost legal aid service to undertrials and convicted prisoners who are unable to pay for their legal representation. Our work is to defend civil liberties and to create a more humane criminal justice system. The emphasis is on greater access to justice for the poor, workers, disabled, aged, sick, tribal, women, dalit, juveniles and other minorities.


One of our main focus areas is work inside the prison, as we believe in corrections via jails and prisons, which can only be understood by reviewing prison conditions and capital punishment laws. We work with progressive prison administrators and police personnel to set up legal aid clinics in prisons with the objective of representing indigent undertrials. Since 2002, we have been instrumental in setting up a legal aid mechanism for prisoners in Delhi. Though the Indian judiciary makes use of death penalty, HRLN strongly believes in the abolition of the death penalty.


Prison Conditions
Practice of Death Penalty
Legislative, Executive and Judicial Expansion of Police Powers


We have represented the poor and marginalized and have highlighted that a large number of prisoners are kept in prisons without being produced in the courts on the dates fixed for their trial or in connection with remand. (See: Rajendra Bidkar and Ors Vs. The State of Maharashta) Our team is at the forefront in regard to its reform work in prisons, playing a pivotal role in implementation of the Mulla Committee recommendations and the DK Basu guidelines layed down by the Supreme Court. Strongly condemning custodial torture and violence, our team in Mumbai documented ten cases of custodial violence in Maharashtra over a period of two months. Subsequently, the court asked for magisterial enquiry report. Our team went on to submit guidelines to be followed for the prevention of such occurences in the future.
Another petition in the Bombay High Court asked for improving the visiting condition of prisoners and their families (See: Kavita Kaushik vs State of Maharashtra). Another landmark case decided in the Bombay High Court resulted in the release of hundreds of under-trial prisoners, who had languished in prisons for far beyond the maximum term of their punishment, due to slow court procedures. (See: Shabnam Miniwaalla Vs. State of Maharashtra). However, statistics still demonstrate that 70% of India’s prison inmates are undertrials and much remains to be done to improve the criminal justice system of the country.