From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 2- Issue of custodial death
Judiciary has played a significant role in tackling the problems of police violence. Yet, we come across some incident of violence intermittently. So, what went wrong? And what needs to be done? These issues are addressed in this article.
Role played by judiciary
- Supreme Court’s interventioned against police violence came through in cases such as Joginder Kumar v. State of UP  and D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal .
- In these cases, guidelines to secure 2 rights – a right to life and a right to know – in the context of any state action were issued.
- Through these guidelines, the Court sought to curb the power of arrest.
- It also ensured that an accused person is made aware of all critical information regarding the arrest.
- Information of arrest also has to be conveyed to friends and family immediately in the event of being taken in custody.
- It took a decade, and in the form of amendments, as the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2008 to give statutory backing to these judicial guidelines.
- It remains part of the law today.
Significance of Prakash Singh Case
- The Supreme Court went even further in the case, Prakash Singh v. Union of India .
- In this case, it pushed through new legislation for governing police forces to be passed by States across India.
- A key component of the new legislation was a robust setup for accountability that contemplated a grievance redress mechanism.
- However, several States are yet to legislate on the matter and remain in contempt of the Supreme Court’s judgment.
- Judiciary has supported techniques such as narcoanalysis, ensuring video recording of investigations, passing orders for installing closed-circuit television cameras inside police stations.
- Through technology, one can hope to reduce the need for interacting with the body as a source of evidence.
- But how often police employ physicality to obtain evidence will remain the deciding factor.
- Despite all this, there are reports suggesting that across India there are as many as five custodial deaths a day.
- Presence of continued institutional apathy towards the issue of police reform.
- Judiciary’s approach of simply passing directions and guidelines, has proven to be a failure.
- It is the ordinary magistrate, and not the constitutional court, who is the judicial actor wielding real power to realise substantial change in police practices. Hence, poor change.
- There is a gap between the highest court and the lowly police officer in India.
- Studies show despite criminal laws being struck down as unconstitutional, they continue to be enforced in various parts of the country by local police.
What can be done?
- Constitutional courts could reorient their guidelines to try and change the practices of magistrates.
- It is the local magistrate before whom all arrested and detained persons must be produced within 24 hours.
- Thus, magistrate becomes the point of first contact for a citizen with the constitutional rule of law.
- The overworked magistrate, struggling with an ever-exploding docket, is very often in a rush to get done with the remand case.
- This need to change with more involvement of Constitutional courts.
Consider the question “Custodial torture is an anathema to democracy. Examine the issues related to custodial torture and how is it against the basic fundamental rights? What steps should be taken to prevent such acts by the police functionaries?”
The repeated instances of custodial deaths and tortures point to the inadequacies of the legal framework and lack of implementation. So, there is an urgent need for plugging the loopholes and some changes in approach.