By Poonam Joshi
London [UK], December 14 (ANI): The UK High Court on Tuesday began hearing an appeal by the billionaire diamond dealer Nirav Modi against his extradition to India to face charges of defrauding Punjab National Bank of more than Rs 11,000 crore as well as charges of money laundering and witness intimidation.
Modi's lawyers argue that he should not be sent back to India owing on the grounds that it would harm his mental health and place him at risk of suicide.
They contend that his long incarceration at Wandsworth Prison in south London - where he has been held since his arrest in London in March 2019 - has only made his condition worse.
Modi has argued that he has long suffered from severe depression and that he would not receive the appropriate level of psychiatric and psychological care if incarcerated at the Arthur Road jail in Mumbai.
His lawyers have based their appeal on the grounds that it would violate his human rights to be extradited.
On the first day of the appeal, there was yet again on full display the British justice system which many a fugitive from justice - Modi being the latest - have relied on to fight extradition as Modi's lawyers and the two judge panel debated over a two and a half hour period the minutiae of what constituted suicide risk and if there was a danger of Modi being pushed to suicide.
Much of what was discussed had already been heard at Westminster Magistrate's Court where judge Samuel Goozee had earlier this year ordered Modi's extradition after ruling that there is a Prima Facie case against him as brought by the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI.
This hearing was heard before Lord Justice Stuart Smith and Justice Robert Jay.
At the very outset, Lord Justice Smith made it clear that the court was eager to get the case heard and a ruling to be issued particularly in light of what he called Modi's long incarceration at Wandsworth prison.
Modi's legal team - led by Edward Fitzgerald QC, fresh from representing Julian Assange - relied on many of the arguments that they have relied on from the outset; that not only is Modi suffering from severe depression but that sending him to India would precipitate his taking his own life.
The Indian government has made a variety of submissions and assurances with regards to providing adequate mental health care during his incarceration and on several occasions the bench made it clear that it was willing to accept the Indian government's assurances at face value.
The court was told that the suicide of Modi's mother in 1979 made him especially vulnerable to suicidal tendencies and that extradition would be a trigger.
The government of India has assured that Modi would be placed on suicide watch and would even have access to private medical care - including to mental health experts - outside of the Arthur Road jail facilities.
However, Fitzgerald contended that the government, while making these assurances, had failed to provide how such a thing would work in practise. The judges retorted that the court was happy to take the assurance at face value.
Lord Justice Smith also declared that India is a "sophisticated society" which "understands medical science and the need for proper treatment".
As the day drew to an end, defence lawyers told the court that they had further questions and required clarifications in relation to not just conditions at Arthur Road Jail but the provision of medical care to Modi if he is to be extradited.
Justice Smith ordered the defence to submit their questions by Monday morning (20 December), questions to which the Indian government should provide responses within 48 hours.
He told the court that he was "acutely aware of the enormous importance of the case" and the need for proceedings to be expedited. However, he added that any decisions should be made "on the basis of full and comprehensive information.
The court is expected to sit again on 4 January when the justices will decide on the way forward based on the information submitted to the case. (ANI)