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Behind Custodial Death

Despite the fact that incarceration-related fatalities or torture is not a recent occurrence in India, it dramatically increased during the British era, and we are still striving to eradicate this social ill from our society now. The Indian government made important legal modifications after winning independence, but these adjustments had no influence on the level of brutality inflicted on convicts in Indian society.

Section 76 of the Criminal Procedure Code, Sections 24, 25, and 26 of the Indian Evidence Act, Section 29 of the Police Act of 1861, and Sections 330, 331, and 348 of the Indian Penal Code are among the laws that forbid torturing police officials. However, these laws are not always enough to prevent such violence or torture.

Citizens and advocates alike are concerned about the rising numbers of custodial fatalities in India. According to experts, it's typical for laws prohibiting torture in detention to be broken, and many cops see violence as a legal tactic. Civil rights attorneys, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and former police officers involved in this field argue that not all deaths that occur while being held in prison are due to torture or beatings and that some may instead be caused by illnesses or medical malpractice but those in police custody tend to be the result of violence.

Custodial death is defined as the death of a person while they are in custody, whether it is directly or indirectly due to and significantly traceable to acts performed on the deceased while they were in custody. It also covers deaths that take place in jails, on police or other vehicles, in a public space, a private or medical facility, or on private or other property. It also covers deaths that take place while a person is being arrested, being taken into custody, or being interrogated, as well as deaths that occur while a person is in court custody while they are being tried or serving a sentence.

A person who is being kept in police custody is locked up at a police station. Within 24 hours of an arrest, police must take the suspect before a magistrate. A person who is being held in jail under judicial custody is in the magistrate's care.

Police officers who are held responsible for deaths that occurred while under their custody frequently escape punishment, and the victim's loved ones are rarely given financial support.

1,888 fatalities in custody have been reported in India over the past 20 years, and while 893 cases have been filed against police officers, only 358 of them and justice officials have been properly charged.

According to official statistics, just 26 cops were found guilty during this time.

The fact that 60% of people who died while in police custody were from impoverished or marginalized groups shows that their socioeconomic status makes them targets of victimization.

Asserting that "police stations pose the worst threat to human rights and dignity as custodial torture brutality and police atrocities still prevail notwithstanding constitutional protections," N V Ramana CJ highlighted his concern about deaths occurring while in custody.

The cruellest type of human rights violation is thought to be dead in custody It is prohibited under the Indian Constitution, the Supreme Court, the National Human Rights Commission, and the UN. It is critical to strike a balance between the need for law enforcement and safeguards against oppression and injustice at the hands of law enforcement personnel.

Therefore, it is imperative that a balance be maintained between social interests and individual human rights in order to combat criminal activity and offenses using a practical strategy.

Statutory Provisions:
  • The Indian Constitution's Article 20(3) safeguards citizens against self-incrimination.
  • The Indian Evidence Act of 1872 states in Sections 24, 25, and 26 that confessions given to the police or under duress are not admissible in court.
  • Article 29 of the Police Act of 1861 states that any police officer who knowingly disobeys their duties or disobeys a legal order issued by the appropriate authorities will be penalised in accordance with this provision.
  • In line with Section 76 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the individual who has been arrested must appear in court immediately and within 24 hours (CrPC).
  • If a person in custody dies, vanishes, or is raped while in custody, the Judicial Magistrate has the authority to order an inquiry under Section 176(I) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
  • Section 46 of the Code of Criminal Procedure forbids the police from killing a person while effecting an arrest (CrPC).
  • Section 49 of the Code of Criminal Procedure prohibits the use of unreasonable restrictions by the police when making an arrest (CrPC).
  • The Magistrate may nominate a medical petitioner to examine the defendant in accordance with Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
  • The Indian Penal Code (IPC), Sections 330(a) and (b), provides that police officers who torture victims for confessions or any other reason may be sentenced to up to 7 years in prison.
On December 18, 1996, the Supreme Court of India decided the case of D. K. Basu v. the State of West Bengal. The Public Interest Litigation was sparked by a letter that D. K. Basu, a former judge of the Calcutta High Court and the executive chairman of Legal Aid Services of West Bengal at the time, sent to the Chief Justice of India on August 26, 1986. (PIL).

The letter requested the CJI to investigate into the issue of numerous deaths in custody, develop arrest guidelines to be followed, and establish compensation to be offered to victims or surviving family members in the event of torture or death in detention.

The court put forward eleven principles in the 1996 ruling, including guidelines for making arrests and providing compensation in the event that the victim passed away.

The 2008 amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure included some of the recommendations made by the Supreme Court of India in its 1996 ruling. For offences carrying terms of up to 7 years in prison, the amendment's provisions stipulated that the dealing officer should issue a "notice of appearance" rather than making an arrest. The police may decide to arrest the accused if he refuses to follow the notice, nevertheless.

On May 6, 2010, the Lok Sabha adopted the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010. The Rajya Sabha submitted the measure to a select committee even though it was thought that it did not comply with the UN Convention against Torture. The amended bill lost effect on May 18, 2014, the day the fifteenth Lok Sabha was dissolved.

The Law Commission of India proposed in a study from 2018 that India ratify the UN Convention against Torture and pass separate legislation outlawing the use of force against its citizens. According to the study, India has trouble extraditing offenders from foreign countries because of its reputation for torturing detainees.

The troubling statistics for deaths in custody highlight India's deplorable law and order situation. People losing their right to life as a result of police brutality and violence is regrettable, but it is even worse when police officers torture and abuse their victims.

Since the police are in charge of all the records and evidence, there is no way to hold the personnel accountable if there is insufficient evidence that they were responsible for the death of a person while they were in custody.

However, there are some actions that can be taken to stop custodial deaths.

First and foremost, the eleven rules established in the D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal, 1996 case must be faithfully followed:

  1. The people who conducted the arrest and are in charge of the accused's interrogation must have his identity card, on which are listed his name and position
  2. When the accused is taken into custody, the police officers are required to note the arrest.
  3. As soon as practicable, the accused's family or acquaintances must be informed of his or her arrest.
  4. The district's "legal help organisation" and the local police station are required to telegraphically alert the accused's family members or friends who live outside the district of the arrest 8 to 12 hours after it occurs.
  5. The detained individual must be informed of his right to tell a third party of his arrest.
  6. The arrest requires the creation of an entry record.
  7. When an accused person is apprehended, they must be checked out.
  8. Within 48 hours of the arrestee's imprisonment, a medical examination must be done on him.
  9. The magistrate of the relevant region shall get copies of all documents and memos
  10. During the investigation, the detained person has a right to speak with his attorney.
  11. The laws stipulate that there must be a police control room set up in each district and state administrative centre, and that any information on an arrest must be provided to the control room within 12 hours of the arrest taking place.
The evidence reveals that police officers don't hesitate to use force on the accused because most of those charged with crimes are acquitted. If the staff is allowed immunity against the use of excessive force, the fundamental principles of the Indian Constitution are undermined, hence this needs to be altered if custodial deaths are to be avoided. It is necessary to enact a strict legal provision to punish employees who abuse their authority.

Secondly, an accused person is frequently put through a media trial. This affects the general public's belief that the accused must be guilty, and as a result, the accused's experiences with torture are frequently disregarded. Additionally, it gives the police authority reassurance that they are carrying out their duties with integrity.

Thirdly, lower-ranking police personnel are subjected to pressure from higher-ranking law enforcement or government authorities to crack a case or extract a confession, and as a result, they give in to that pressure and use violence. The Supreme Court of India ordered the State and Central governments to stop putting additional pressure on the police officials in Prakash Singh v. Union of India, 2006

In addition, the seven recommendations made in the Prakash Singh v. Union of India decision also call for implementation:

  1. To make sure that the state governments are not putting pressure on the police, the court ordered the creation of a State Security Commission. The panel should establish some rules for the police, and the court suggested evaluating the performance of the police personnel.
  2. A merit-based selection process must be used to designate the Director-General of the Police for a two-year term.
  3. The SP in charge of the district and the station house officers in charge of the police station shall be given a minimum tenure of two years, according to the third instruction.
  4. The police's investigation and law and order duties were to be separated, according to the fourth instruction.
  5. It is necessary to establish a Police Establishment Board to make decisions regarding postings, transfers, promotions, and other service affairs involving police officers with ranks equal to or below the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP). The police officers ranking above DSP would also be recommended for transfers and postings by the boards.
  6. At the state level, a Police Complaint Authority (PCA) must be established to investigate public complaints made against police personnel with rank DSP or above in situations of misbehavior including grave bodily harm, rape, or custodial death. To handle grievances from officers with lower ranks than DSP, a PCA should be established at the district level.
  7. The most recent order encouraged the creation of the National Security Commission at the union level, whose task would be to prepare a panel for the selection and placement of Central Police Organisation Chiefs with a minimum tenure of two years.

Case Studies:
  • J Prabhavathiamma v/s The State of Kerala & Ors

    Nazar J. observed that the acts of the accused persons would adversely affect the transparency of the very institution of the police department. The court awarded the death sentence to the two police personnel.
  • Munshi Singh Gautam v/s State of Madhya Pradesh

    The Supreme Court of India while delivering the judgment in this case observed that:
    "The torture, assault, and death in custody which is dehumanizing have assumed and extended on a large scale which puts a mark of question upon the administration of the criminal justice system, whose object is to entail fairness and justice for all."
  • Yashwant And Ors v/s State of Maharashtra (2018)

    The Supreme Court upheld the conviction of nine Maharashtra cops concerning a 1993 custodial death case and extended their jail terms from three to seven years each. The judgment was given by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and J M.M Shantanagoudar.
  • Rajan Case Verdict (1977)

    The engineering course enrolled student was arrested by the police; he was never produced before the court and in a Habeas Corpus suit filed by the detainee's father the fact came out that the boy was killed in the police custody itself.

Unbearably high numbers of deaths in custody are depicted in the statistics provided by the National Human Rights Commission and National Crime Reports Bureau which needs to be altered. A significant problem is the protection provided by the state to police even when they abuse their authority. In situations where a person dies while being held in custody, police operations must be closely monitored, and any guilty police officers must face punishment.

To convince the authorities that they cannot abuse their power, a precedent must be established. It is quite challenging to predict that the situation with relation to custody mortality will improve given the existing situation.

There is a need for strict judicial action that will only be focused on punishing the staff members whose brutal force resulted in a loss of life and who abused their power. To ensure the decline in incidences of custodial death, the guidelines established in the landmark decisions of D.K. Basu v. State of Bengal and Prakash Singh v. Union of India must be strictly adhered to.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Amar Nath Dubey, BA. LLB. (Hons.), KIIT School Of Law, Bhubaneshwar
Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: OT228812464299-15-1022

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