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Criminal Law Implications of Police Encounters and Extrajudicial Killings in India

Numerous high-profile instances of extrajudicial executions and police encounters have occurred in India in recent years, raising questions about the country's criminal justice system. Police shootouts with alleged criminals that end with their deaths are fundamentally what police encounters are. On the other hand, Extrajudicial killings occur when someone is killed without a court hearing or other legal procedure. These two activities have very serious legal ramifications that need to be looked at.

Police Encounters:

A police encounter is a situation in which law enforcement officials have face-to-face interaction with people or groups that are thought to be involved in criminal activity. These encounters can range from basic questioning to physical confrontations, such shootings. In recent years, police encounters have gained controversy in India.

There are worries that police are being utilised as a form of extrajudicial execution, despite the police's claims that they are required to fight crime and safeguard the people. In many instances, the police assert that they were forced to use lethal force because the alleged criminals were armed and dangerous. Police encounters have significant legal implications. The right to life and personal liberty is protected under the Indian Constitution.

Any restriction on someone's life or freedom has to comply with the law. Only when police encounters comply to the legal standards are considered justifiable. Guidelines regarding the use of force by the police during encounters have been established by the Supreme Court of India. According to the standards, the police must give notice beforehand, make an effort to arrest the suspect, use non-lethal force if possible, and ensure that the encounter is required and proportionate to the threat posed by the suspect.

In actuality, these guidelines are frequently ignored. There is no inquiry into whether the encounter was staged or whether the deceased was genuinely a criminal, and the police are rarely held accountable for encounters that end in death. The rule of law is threatened by this lack of accountability, and public confidence in the criminal justice system is declining.

Extra-Judicial Killings:

Extrajudicial killings are a more extreme form of police violence.Extrajudicial killings are when someone is killed without a court order or due process by members of the government or anyone acting on their behalf. These killings frequently take place outside the purview of law enforcement operations and include the wilful and unlawful deprivation of life.

The Indian Constitution's guarantees of the right to life and liberty are violated by extrajudicial killings. Additionally, they are against international human rights law. Extrajudicial killings are prohibited under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a signatory.

Extrajudicial killings have grave legal implications. The police officers responsible for these deaths can be charged with murder, and in numerous instances, they have been found guilty and given life sentences for extrajudicial killings. These incidents are uncommon, and the majority of police officers involved in extrajudicial killings escape punishment.

Examples of Police Encounters and Extrajudicial Killings in India:
Over the years, there have been a number of high-profile instances of extrajudicial killings and police encounters in India.

Here are a few instances:
  1. The Batla House Encounter:
    The Delhi Police conducted an operation in the Batla House area of Delhi in 2008, and they later claimed to have killed two accused terrorists who were thought to be responsible for the city's recent string of explosions. However, there have been claims that the incident was staged and that the men encountered were actually innocent students and not terrorists. The incident ignited a debate, which resulted in protests and demands for an impartial investigation.
  2. Ishrat Jahan Encounter:
    In 2004, the Gujarat Police killed three people in an encounter, including a 19-year-old girl by the name of Ishrat Jahan. The four, according to the authorities, belonged to a terrorist organization and had been conspiring to assassinate Narendra Modi, the then-Chief Minister of Gujarat. However, there have been claims that the encounter was staged and the victims were innocent citizens. The Gujarat Police were accused of extrajudicial killings following the incident, which resulted in a prolonged legal battle.
  3. Vikas Dubey Encounter:
    In 2020, the Uttar Pradesh Police killed infamous gangster Vikas Dubey in an encounter. Dubey was charged with being associated with a number of crimes, including extortion and murder. There were claims that the encounter was staged and that Dubey was murdered to stop him from disclosing the participation of politicians and police officers in his illegal activities.
  4. Enraged farmer protests:
    In January 2021, a farmer protest against three farm bills passed by the Indian government turned into violence in New Delhi, the nation's capital. As a result, on January 26, protesters, including farmers and workers, broke down barricades and engaged in combat with the police. A protester died as a result of the police's use of force to maintain order. Farmers from all around the nation protested the incident, and there were claims that the police used excessive force and engaged in extrajudicial killing.
  5. Atiq Ahmed Encounter:
    Atiq Ahmed is a well-known criminal in the state of Uttar Pradesh and a former member of parliament. Atiq Ahmed and his brother Ashraf were speaking to journalists while being escorted by police when a gun was pulled not far from their head in Prayagraj. Three men who had been pretending to be journalists soon surrendered and were brought into prison after shots were fired.

    A few days ago, police shot and killed Ahmed's teenage son. Over the past twenty years, dozens of cases, including kidnapping, murder, and extortion, have been filed against Atiq Ahmed. In March 2023, a local court sentenced him and two other people in a case of kidnapping to life in prison. Ahmed had previously asserted that the police posed a threat to his life.

The incident brings to light the problem of extrajudicial killings and police encounters in India, as well as the necessity for criminal justice system accountability and reform. The need to hold the police accountable for their acts and make sure the rule of law is followed, is highlighted by the NHRC's recommendation for legal action against the police personnel engaged in the encounter.

These cases highlight how frequent police encounters and the extrajudicial killings are in India as well as the need for criminal justice system accountability and reform.

Implications for the Criminal Justice System:

India's high rate of extrajudicial killings and police encounters has implications for the criminal justice system in numerous ways.

Firstly, it erodes public confidence in the system. People lose faith in the criminal justice system's ability to uphold their rights when the police are seen as being above the law. As people start taking matters into their own hands, this might result in a breakdown of law and order.

Second, it undermines the rule of the law. Everyone must be law-abiding, even the police, according to the rule of law. When the police are allowed to act with impunity, the rule of law is undermined and the system loses its predictability and reliability.

Thirdly, it promotes a violent culture. When the police are permitted to use lethal force without being held responsible, it conveys a message that using violence to settle conflicts is acceptable. People may believe that they must use violence to defend themselves or their interests.

Fourthly, it may cause the relationship between the police and the community to deteriorate. People are less willing to cooperate with the police or provide them with information when they are perceived as abusive and corrupt. The police may find it more challenging to look into crimes and capture suspects as a result.

Finally, it may also result in a miscarriage of justice. It is impossible to tell whether someone was genuinely guilty of a crime when they are killed without a trial or judicial procedure. This may result in innocent individuals being wrongfully imprisoned and guilty one's going free.

Laws and Guidelines that Govern the Use of Force by the Police in India: Several laws and rules control the use of force by police officials in India.

The significant ones are:
  1. The right to life and personal liberty is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It declares that no person shall be deprived of their life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. This provision has frequently been invoked to argue that extrajudicial killings and police encounters violate the right to life.
  2. Section 46 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC): Section 46 specifies the process for making an arrest. According to this, an arrest must be made carefully and the person being arrested should not be subjected to more restraint than is essential to prevent escape. This provision has frequently been invoked to argue against the use of excessive force during police encounters.
  3. Section 129 of the CrPC: This section of the law permits the use of force to preserve public order. It states that the police can use force to disperse an unlawful gathering or prevent a breach of peace. However, the amount of force used must be reasonable and proportionate to the situation.
  4. Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC): Section 197 provides for the prior sanction of the government before prosecuting a public servant for an act done in the discharge of their official duties. This provision has been used to shield police officers from prosecution for their actions in police encounters.
  5. The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993: To safeguard and advance human rights in the nation, the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 establishes the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and State Human Rights Commissions (SHRCs). The NHRC and SHRCs have the power to investigate into allegations of human rights breaches, including police encounters and extrajudicial killings.
  6. The Supreme Court's Guidelines: In the PUCL vs. State of Maharashtra case (2014), the Supreme Court has issued guidelines on how police officers should act while using force, particularly when it comes to encounter-related killings. These guidelines mandate that the police adhere to particular protocols before, during, and after an encounter, including the recording of all essential data and the investigation of all encounter deaths by an independent agency.

The legal framework for the use of force by Indian police officers is provided by these laws and guidelines. The protection of human rights, as well as the requirement for accountability and transparency in police actions, are all addressed by these laws and guidelines. There is a need for more transparency and accountability in police operations because it is still difficult to put these laws and guidelines into implementation.

Case Laws:
In India, there have been a number of significant court rulings concerning police encounters and extrajudicial killings.

The following are a few landmark cases:
  1. People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. State of Maharashtra: The Supreme Court's 2014 ruling in this case established guidelines for the investigation of police encounters. According to the Court, a Special Investigating Team (SIT) or the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) shall conduct an investigation into every encounter death. The court further ruled that the deceased's relatives needed to be made aware of the incident and must be given access to legal aid.
  2. D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal: The Supreme Court ruled on this case in 1997, and the ruling established guidelines for an individual's arrest and detention. The Court ruled that when making an arrest and holding someone in custody, the police must adhere to specific procedures.
  3. Prakash Kadam v. Ramprasad Vishwanath Gupta: The Supreme Court decided this case in 2011, which challenged police encounters. The Court ruled that there are specified procedures the police have to follow while conducting an encounter. The Court further declared that the involved police officers would be guilty of murder if the encounter had not been genuine.
These landmark cases have established significant precedents for how police encounters and extrajudicial killings are handled in India. They have emphasised how important it is for police actions to be transparent, accountable, and respectful of human rights.

In conclusion, human rights organisations, the media, and the judiciary have focused a lot of attention on the major problem of police encounters and extrajudicial executions in India. Such actions weaken the relationship between the police and citizens, foster a culture of violence, degrade public confidence in the criminal justice system, and may result in a miscarriage of justice. While encounters may be required in some circumstances to defend citizens' lives, it is crucial that they take place within the bounds of the law and the Constitution.

In order to ensure that the police force upholds the law while performing its duty, the government and the judiciary are essential. To stop power abuses, the government must give the police force adequate resources, training, and accountability mechanisms. The judiciary must also be vigilant and proactive in investigating into and prosecuting instances of police encounters and extrajudicial killings.

India has a number of laws and guidelines that control how much force the police are allowed to use. To make sure that the police force adheres to the law, the enforcement of these rules and guidelines must be increased. The aforementioned case laws have established significant precedents in dealing with police encounters and extrajudicial killings in India. India can move closer to becoming a society where the rule of law is preserved by adhering to and reinforcing these precedents, which will ensure that citizens' rights are protected.


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