The Bombay High Court has directed the principal district judges in Maharashtra to verify if video conferencing facilities are functioning in their courts and to also inform if periodical meetings were being held with concerned jail authorities on the availability of police escorts to produce undertrials before the Court.

A Division Bench of Justice Prasanna Varale and Justice S M Modak, in an order passed on April 5, a copy of which was made available on Friday, noted there were directions given by the High Court's administrative side to all principal district judges to conduct meetings with jail authorities, so as to secure more police escorts.

"All principal district judges to verify whether these meetings about availability of police escorts are being conducted or not. If such meetings were conducted, the PDJs (principal district judges) to verify whether reports were sent to the High Court Administration," the Court directed.

If the meetings have been discontinued for some reason, then PDJs are directed to ensure they are periodically held.

"We also direct all Principal District Judges in Maharashtra to verify whether video conference facility is working or not working, and if not working then to take steps for their functioning," the Court said.

The Court passed the order while hearing a habeas corpus (produce the person) petition filed by Sushil Lohiya whose son Brijesh Lohiya is presently in judicial custody.

Brijesh Lohiya was arrested by the CBI in a criminal conspiracy and cheating case. While initially he was in CBI's custody on March 8, 2022 he was sent to judicial custody till March 22. However, on March 22, Brijesh was not produced before the court either physically or virtually for remand. The special court extended his judicial custody till April 5.

Sushil Lohiya then filed the petition in High Court claiming that since his son was not produced in court on March 22, the order extending his judicial custody ought to be set aside. He sought immediate release of his son. Senior Advocate Abad Ponda appeared for Lohiya.

Additional Public Prosecutor M H Mhatre told the Court the accused could not be produced in court on March 22 due to lack of police escort.

The Bench dismissed the petition noting it was not maintainable, but said it was inclined to make certain observations on the manner in which jail superintendents are performing their duties and how judges are dealing with the issue. The Court said for judicial custody, virtual production (of the accused) before the court is recognized in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

"So, why should jail superintendents wait for orders from the courts allowing virtual production? At the same time, we also feel a judge seized of the matter may also mention in an order that virtual production is permitted when physical production is not possible for some reasons," the Bench said.

It added courts in Maharashtra are scattered and sometimes internet facility may not be available.

"We are also aware that during the COVID-19 pandemic, courts could not function to their fullest extent. So, there is a need to revive the existing systems. We are informed the Maharashtra government has now made available video conferencing set up in some Courts," the Order said.

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With PTI inputs