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Justice And Morality: Custodial Deaths And CrPc

When we hear the word custody, people usually apprehend it with the word arrest, however, custody means under supervision or care. Thereby, a person under police custody is also expected to be treated with full dignity. This raises an end number of questions when we see news regarding custodial deaths, rapes and disappearance; it is a matter of morals and justice. To talk about the same, there are laws placed in order to avoid any such circumstances and to maintain order. Under CrPC, section-176, it clearly states that any such horrendous crimes shall not take place. This actively demonstrates that any an accused under the custody of police if found to have an unnatural death, disappearance or rape, ensures safety and the strict compliance of custodial deaths by the NHRC takes a high significance on its agenda.

In CrPC, section-176, where later sub-section 1(A) was amended, it states that where any individual under custody of the police dies, disappears or is allegedly raped, should be inquired by either the magistrate or the court and also an investigation by the police should be held. We can see that there are laws to protect the rights of an individual, however, in light of recent events where the cases of police brutality and custodial deaths have seemingly increased, there hasn�t been much information provided for the same and not many investigations have taken place in time, or have been later handed off to independent agencies like the CBI or special investigation teams which has made it difficult to come to a conclusion. This alone disrupts the order in the society as custodial death is nothing but a crime against law enforcement.

Research Problem
It is worth noting that the act has been a significant initiative to control and minimise the brutality and crimes. The act has brought many remarkable changes and positive changes in the conduct of police, despite that, there still many issues like delayed investigations, weak implementations of police complaint authority, causes of death due to circumstances/conditions in prison is not provided. For this, CrPC provides a layer of protection but is unfortunately camouflaged by the rights given to a policeman to arrest.

Justice is a system of fairness and equality for every citizen of the country and unless every field in a society is provided with the same, it is justice denied. Every individual in the country, including criminals, deserves to be treated with law and order and to face violation of their rights is an offence just as great as any other crime and needs to be talked about. Misdemeanours like these are to be addressed so as to maintain the basic equilibrium of the social atmosphere, therefore, to ensure the same, safety laws were added to abstain from crimes in custody to take place.

The powers handed to policemen to arrest bestow them with an upper hand in making unnecessary arrests which can lead to a torturous investigation, resulting in many cases as deaths. Police brutality in any form is a major issue and with the help of CrPC this issue was aided, it is a blessing for some and a blessing in disguise for some.

The research paper is aimed to bring about many issues as follows:
  • To understand how the Section-176 amendment of CrPC helps the motive to curtail police brutality.
  • To understand the impact of non-compliance of Section-176(1A)
  • How delay in lodging a police FIR or delayed investigation is an issue.
  • To understand the weak implementations of Police Complaint Authority

Literature Review
In the article authored by Rohan Deshpande �What can India do to combat police brutality and bias� states that misconduct of police can be sought before the High Courts and the Supreme Court, however, it is possible that only cases where the burden of proof is extremely high might be one of some cases that are dealt with. The article states that complaints can be filed against the concerned officers for offences under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, but since the mechanism for an independent investigation is not provided which most often results in policemen generally refusing to file first information reports against their colleagues.

Therefore, the safeguard provided to police personnel under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, is also recurrently exploited, however, authority can not camouflage the ability to commit crime. With this statement many conclusions and assumptions can be made, but as reliable as CrPC is, the idea of it being misused by section-197 or by section-41 is not an unreasonable doubt.

In the article, published by Shreya Tandon, �Problems, perspective, and laws surrounding custodial deaths, a dire need of anti-torture law�, the author talks about how Protection Of Human Rights (PHRA), 1993 was an added layer of protection and promotion of the citizens of the country. However, it was found that there were cases of procrastination and that there was an undue pause in submitting such records, which further obstructed the process for cases arising from custodial deaths.

M.P Nathanael in his article named �Reducing custodial deaths� vocalises his thoughts on how the weak implementation of the Police Complaint Authority that were to be established after the historic order of the Supreme Court in 2006, where a citizen who was a victim of police misdemeanor could lodge a complaint against the officer involved.

While states like Punjab, Jharkhand, Maharashtra et cetera took the matters seriously and began the practice of PCA, the rest of the states on the other hand simply did not take the matter seriously. To sum up everything that has been stated and to jump to conclusion, until exemplary punishment is not issued, the police personnel are not likely to take matters like such with much seriousness. Therefore, if these issues are not dealt with, there cannot be much done to ameliorate the situation even after a judicial inquiry.

The research on this topic has been achieved by adopting Doctrinal Research methods. In the present study, primary and secondary sources such as Books, National and International Law Journals, Case Law, Doctoral thesis and Dissertations, Reports of Committees and Commissions, Dictionaries, Statutes, Comprehensive Manual and Newspapers have also been utilised. For collecting material, the internet was highly resourceful in providing the required materials.

Code Of Criminal Procedure S.176: A Step Towards Justice

When section-176 came into being, it was labelled as �one of the most important things� executed in the amendment act. In the same, custodial deaths, disappearance and rapes were brought in light and was given the noteworthiness these heinous crimes deserve. With this section, the power to hold inquests falls not only on the Executive Magistrate but also on the Judicial Magistrate along with a police investigation on the same. Under sub-section 1A, the body of the raped victim or the deceased is to be sent for examination within 24 hours of the reporting of the incident, which could help give a better understanding of what happened, however, if for some reason it is not possible to do so, it shall be given in writing stating all the reasons and facts. With this initiative, we can agree that crimes like such are not looked away from. This uplifts the voice of hundreds of people facing injustice during custody.

Safeguards to those in Custody
It is stated by the Supreme Court that a person in custody is not denied the basic rights, which empowers the person with a sense of security and safety. However, if a police officer is found guilty of denying a person under custody his basic fundamental rights, the victim has the power to take the matters to the Supreme Court under Article 32.

Failure To Provide A Full Picture

Section 176 being a historic ordinance was nothing but a compilation of corruption, secrecy and non-compliance. This has created a huge controversy on the workings of criminal justice. While the custodial deaths have been only increasing, implementation of PCA is not taken seriously, there is an issue of non-compliance, and delay in filing complaints; to top it all off, there has also been a huge shortage of staff. Chairpersons are not elected, as appointments are not being made. The lack of voice to the issue is so little that matters are slipping by without catching an eye of the criminal justice system, which is a huge failure to the constitution. Not having a full picture is just as similar to neglecting the duties.

NHRC Interpretations- A Dilemma
As stated above, the most important section-176 of the Code of Criminal Procedure turned out to be in contradiction from the notification by the NHRC on the clarification on how interpret Section 176(1A). The clarification stated that not all cases will be handled by the Executive or the Judicial Magistrate but only the cases where a series of serious questions arise and questions for the law emerge.

Thereby, an inquest will only be held by the Judicial or Metropolitan Magistrate will only be done when there is a sense of foul play in the death of a person under custody or where a serious well-founded allegation is made against an officer, whereas in the rest of the cases where death is either natural or due to an illness, it shall be enquired by the Executive Magistrate along with a police investigation. Since there are alleged �ties of brotherhood� among police officials, which could delay a fruitful investigation.

Non-Compliance of Section-176
The nature of the provision is in point mandatory, but its compliance is extremely rare. There have been inquiries only on certain cases while the other cases have been overlooked, therefore, there is a dire need of strict implementations to avoid any non-compliance of the above mentioned section. It has seemed that ever since the section got ordained, it has been ignored and not followed.

Delay- An Issue
In the case of Lalita kumari v. State of UP, the Supreme Court declared that it is mandatory to file a FIR, under the section of 154 of the code. Even in section-176(1A), it is mandatory to file a FIR or approach the Judicial Magistrate if police personnel deny to file a complaint for every death in police custody. Due to the delay in filing the complaint, there would be a delay in investigation. Although, even when the investigation takes place, the proceedings are tainted by biased and prejudicial oversight.

Weak Implementations of PCA
The Supreme Court in 2006, in the verdict of Prakash Singh v. Union of India, provided an effective framework for accountability against custodial deaths and police misconduct. The court directed to establish �Police Complaint Authority (PCA)� at state levels. However strong the direction might be, on ground levels it was dismal. The weak implementations of the PCA just looked to be a non-compliance of the ordinance. Many states failed to pass the legislation either at state level or at district level, in some cases even both. These divergences from the legal ordinance is a mere death letter of the law.

Death Due to Illness
The reports that are to be provided in cases of custodial deaths plays a crucial role, it helps the public and the authorities understand the circumstance of death. �Death due to illness� also plays a major role in understanding the situation of the person in custody. However, the illness which was faced by the person in custody is not determined and neither is the cause of illness. While many believe it is natural to die of an illness, it is also possible to acquire an illness due to harsh treatments in custody. The nature of the reports is opaque and due to this, the understanding of the crimes is gone unnoticed.

Justice And Morality- A One Way Street

The concept of law is not different from that of morals. Many believe, law is just a more defined and just system while morals depend from person-to-person. Being an individual and being correct according to one self, makes a man morally correct. Law on the other hand focuses on the rights and wrongs from a bigger perspective, the focus is depended on the society and what should be done in order to maintain safety and ensure rights from the abuses of organisations, other people and from the government itself.

When we talk about such heinous crimes like rapes, murders or disappearances, it stimulates a sense of shock. Society starts questioning if they are de facto safe or not; and so, laws were passed to ensure the same.

Transgressions like such are not only against laws, but also are in defiance of morals. To say only the law is disregarded would be an understatement. Morals are just as much a part of society as laws are and the idea to prevail justice would be only a fantasy, if the justice received is not morally binding.

The above statement demonstrates that, Cr.P.C in regards to crimes in custody, is a morally binding and law ensuring act. With the help of the act, many might get the justice against such horrifying and derogatory crimes.

Free Will Or Compulsion?

From the very beginning of times, torture and violence have been a major trick to inquire with a person in custody. Studies show, that after a lot of torture, the person gets weak and accepts his/her wrongdoings or rather confess to anything. Be that as it may, after the new laws it was rendered ineffective and purposeless. Yet, nowadays too there are many cases of custodial torture resulting in deaths, with this it raises a question �is the crime committed by the police officer in free will or by the direction of their superiors?�. With encounter killings being vague and unclear, it is posed with many queries of whether superiors were involved.

There is a turning of a blind eye by the judiciary to the claims and evidence of beatings and torture. This can only be comprehended as an unmentioned consent to third-degree practice employed by the police. This whole cycle of police claiming to be fabricating evidence and practicing alleged �fake� encounters contributes to the judicial crimes and custodial brutality as there is no strictness and severity to the actions of the police personnel and the crimes go blind in the eyes of law.

Judicial Pronouncements

In the case of Jayaraj and Bennix v. State of Tamil Nadu, there was a killing of the father-son duo which created a huge controversy. The father, P. Jayaraj, had been allegedly keeping their phone and related accessory shop open 15 minutes following the covid-19 lockdown, was allegedly insulting and offended the police personnel to which as a consequence, he was arrested and taken into custody.

Later, when the son, Bennix heard the news and rushed to the police station along with his friends, he witnessed his father getting beaten up by the police and decided to intervene and was also taken into custody. Bennix was beaten up terribly, leaving his black and blue, which was all witnessed by his friends. The duo was immensely abused and ill-treated, and they were soaked in blood.

There is also an allegation of rape to them, as there was a lot of rectal bleeding. The Tamil Nadu State Human Rights Commission and the Madurai bench of the Madras high court took a suo motu acknowledgement of the offence, and demanded a report from the police officials concerned. The officer against whom the allegations were made have been suspended and arrested. The above stated shows that, only with the suo-moto intervention of the government, remedial actions were taken and the accused were suspended. This shows not only an act of abuse against the victims involved but also an abuse of power.

In the case of Kartik Mehto v State of Bihar, the National Human Rights Commission registered a case against the sub-inspector under section 302 IPC who detained the victim for no cause and brutally tortured him in custody which led to his death. When NHRC registered the case, the sub-inspector surrendered to the Court and was arrested and was dealt in accordance with the law. A commission was also paid to the wife of the deceased by the State of Bihar. The final action is yet awaited.

While the workings of the law may be in either black or white, ground reality workings lie somewhere in the grey area. Justice and morality being a historic concept requires modifications and changes. Although section-176 of Criminal Code Procedure is a fair and just act, the reach of it is not till far, and therefore, to provide justice in a vague system seems a far-fetched dream. No doubt that there is a lot wrong with the criminal justice system, but there are many ways by which it can be turned into something much better than the current scenario.

To understand the thought-process behind brutality is important, understanding the implementations of PCA is important but what is most crucial is to understand why these atrocious crimes happen and what can be done to avoid them. Better training and understanding of consequences should be given to the police officials, laws should be made more clear, investigation should not be tampered with. Although to have a fair and sound criminal justice system is a long way, small and critical changes would bring about a significant difference. Written By: Isha Narang

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