Nirav Modi offered two principal lines of defence on Wednesday, each presented by a separate lawyer. The lead argument presented on behalf of Nirav Modi through an appeal hearing against his extradition sought to convince the court that he is too severely depressed to withstand extradition.
The lead argument presented on behalf of Nirav Modi through an appeal hearing against his extradition sought to convince the court that he is too severely depressed to withstand extradition.
The hearing before Justice Chamberlain on Wednesday was not the appeal itself—only an oral hearing to determine whether he should be given another oral hearing for his appeal to be heard. His application for a full oral hearing of his appeal was rejected earlier at the level of written submissions.
If Nirav Modi’s appeal to be given a full oral hearing is accepted, a date will be set for that day on the day Justice Chamberlain gives his ruling, expected within a couple of weeks or so. If Nirav Modi refuses to leave, that would be the end of the road for him—so far as the extradition process goes.
Nirav Modi offered two principal lines of defence on Wednesday, each presented by a separate lawyer. Edward Fitzgerald, QC, argued on behalf of Nirav Modi that there were signs that he may well attempt suicide to avoid any incarceration in India. He spoke of a suicidal tendency within the family, pointing out that Nirav Modi’s mother had committed suicide when he was eight years old.
Fitzgerald challenged the observation of the magistrate who had ordered his extradition that the conditions in Arthur Road in Mumbai that has been proposed as a detention centre for Nirav Modi were better than his current conditions in Wandsworth jail. He argued that if detained longer in jail, or extradited, his mental state may reach a point where he might become unfit to plead. Such a state is a legal ground to block extradition.
“A depressive person sees the world in a catastrophic way that they think there is no other way but suicide,” Fitzgerald said. Legal precedents have determined that extradition can be stopped if the person being extradited seems suicidal.
Arising from this it was argued that Jail administrators and doctors in India would not be equipped or trained enough to prevent suicide should he attempt it there. Nor could Nirav Modi get the psychiatric help he might need.
Fitzgerald argued that understaffing of doctors and overcrowding in Indian prisons lead to delays in getting prisoners to hospitals when in need. This could also legally be a reason for denying extradition.
Covid became an inevitable argument against extradition. “Covid is rising in Maharashtra and is affecting this prison, and the healthcare system is close to collapse,” Fitzgerald argued.
Helen Malcolm QC appearing for the Crown Prosecution Service that is representing the Indian government argued that Modi’s mental state is treatable, according to his own doctor, and that his state is far from unusual for anyone who has been in jail and faces extradition. “Many come before an extradition court in a state of depression,” she said.
She pointed out that conditions in Wandsworth prison were dire, and that the proposed conditions at Arthur Road did seem much better, as the magistrate had observed earlier. At Wandsworth prison, she said, Nirav Modi had been locked up due to the Covid situation “for days together on end without a moment outside.” At other times she said, he t=got “at best only 45 minutes a day outdoors.” It also took, she said, “many days to get a medical appointment in Wandsworth. And therefore the district judge had noted rightly he would be in a better place in Arthur Road than in Wandsworth.”
Malcolm added: “It doesn’t follow like night after a day that it’s oppressive to extradite anyone who is depressed. Nirav Modi is rational, he is fit, he is capable of pleading, the doctor has said he could well improve.”
She did point out that Nirav Modi had been offered special treatment because he would be coming in from abroad. “The kind of cell proposed for him is different from usual conditions. So prison conditions for him would be good. The conditions in the rest of Arthur Road jail are not relevant.”
If the Indian government wins, this still may not mean an imminent return for Nirav Modi. He would have the option to make similar medical arguments to the Home Office for them to be considered at the government level. That is besides other legal options such as the asylum route taken by Vijay Mallya to stay on in Britain, very possibly till the end of his days.
— London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.