This article on ‘Custodial Death in India: Laws and Cases‘ was written by Pramod Sanap, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
The custodial death of an accused by the police is considered the most heinous and drastic act violating not only the human rights of the accused but also the right to live protected by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Torture of any severe nature is considered an infringement of human rights and if it leads to the death of a person then it is the gravest violation of the right to live. Mostly in India people from backward and unprivileged caste or class people suffers from custodial death because of being unaware and uninformed about their rights protected by the constitution and this leads to the exploitation of their rights by the authority.
In this article, an attempt has been made to analyse the concept of Custodial death and the laws governing it in India. It also focuses on landmark cases related to custodial death in our country.
What is a Custodial Death?
If a person dies “in custody,” regardless of whether it happened during an investigation, an interrogation, or another situation, it is deemed that they died as a result of being tortured or receiving any other cruel, inhuman, or humiliating treatment by law enforcement.
Laws Relating to Custodial Death
The actions to take while detaining someone involuntarily or on remand from the court are outlined in the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). A police officer is not permitted to hold a person in custody for more than 24 hours in accordance with Section 57 of the CrPC. According to Section 167 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the officer must ask the magistrate for special authorization before holding a suspect for longer than 24 hours.
One of the most terrible types of human rights violations is abuse in the custody. Every person is guaranteed the right to life and liberty under the Indian Constitution, which also outlaws the use of any kind of torture during interrogation that tries to coerce a confession of guilt. Despite the fact that authorities like the police breach these rights under the law and commit acts of detention mistreatment, brutal, and other cruel treatment of captives and offenders, the Indian Constitution guarantees their protection while they are in the police and court custody facilities.
The primary protection against criminal conviction is found in Article 20 of the Indian Constitution. This article’s primary defense is one against self-incrimination. Even if someone did not commit the claimed crime, police would torture them until they confess. The right to be free from torture is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The fact that the right to life encompasses more than just the ability to live an animalistic existence lends credence to this viewpoint.
The suspect may not be subjected to further confinement or limitations than are required to stop his breakout, according to S. 49 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. A keyword word in this sentence is “required.” It is the responsibility of the state and police officers to ensure that an alleged perpetrator is not restrained needlessly.
It is forbidden to use excessive force or torture on someone who has been detained, and police officers who misuse their authority are susceptible to liability under several articles of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. S. 349 to 358 of the Indian Panel Code, 1860, which contains the laws relating to assault & criminal force, are among these sections. Section 340 of the Indian Panel Code, 1860 is also included.
The High Court of Bombay convicted 9 security officials from Maharashtra guilty of causing death in detention and sentenced them to 3 years in prison in the 1993 case of Yashwant and others v. the State of Maharashtra. The Supreme Court upheld the high court ruling of the high court and enhanced the sentence for each infraction from 3 to 7 years. According to Justice N.V. Ramana and MM Shantanagoudar, the sad police incident damages public confidence in the legal system. The police officers involved in the incident were found guilty by the court of breaking Section 330 of the Indian Penal Code by purposely hurting the victim to get a confession.
Given the nature of the offense committed, the sentence’s prolongation in this instance is entirely justifiable. The legal procedures stipulated by the Constitution must be followed by authorized organizations. Instead of elongating a sentence, the Apex Court increased it, creating an example for the judiciary to not ignore any charges of human rights abuses. The ruling is noteworthy because of this.
The Honorable Supreme Court has frequently prioritized the dignity and autonomy of the individual in its numerous rulings and has always shown great sensitivity to the problem of police brutality. The Supreme Court noted in Prakash Kadam v. Ramprasad Vishwanath Gupta that police officers are people who are meant to enforce the law. According to our perspective, a standard penalty should be provided for crimes done by regular individuals, but a considerably heavier penalty should then be meted out to law enforcement personnel because their actions are directly at odds with their official responsibilities.
The Supreme Court of India ruled in Kishore Singh v. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1981 SC 625, that the application of the third degree by the authorities violates Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Nation should re-educate the constabulary to teach respect to individuals rather than their dreadful talents, it said, if the lower ranks are to honestly copy. More by way of example than by precept, this process has to begin rolling. Thirdly, the authorities shouldn’t be forced to keep a crime secret because one of these escort cops broke the law out of respect for their fellow officers or out of a sense of police camaraderie.
Custodial death is considered the gravest kind of violation of the human right that any individual can face. Custodial death is not only infringing and violative of human rights and the fundamental rights of the Indian constitution but also detrimental to the rule of law as it violates the basic principles of rule of law. In any democratic state, the human rights of an individual are crucial and must be protected by the state, and custodial death infringes these basic principles of the democratic society.
The Honourable Supreme Court in many instances has upheld that custodial death is of the gravest nature and most violative of basic fundamental rights of the Indian constitution. Custodial death is not only contrary to fundamental rights but also contrary to the provisions of the CrPC and Indian Penal Code (IPC).
- Mohammad Sahil Khan, Custodial deaths, iPleaders Blog, 22 July 2022, available at: https://blog.ipleaders.in/custodial-deaths/
- Sumedha Pal, Behind India’s Custodial Death Numbers, Are ‘Brazenly Ignored’ Guidelines, Say Experts, The Wire, 28 July 2022, available at: https://thewire.in/rights/custodial-death-uttar-pradesh
- Murali Krishnan, Custodial deaths in India: A toxic play of power, DW, 19 November 2021, available at: https://www.dw.com/en/custodial-deaths-in-india-a-toxic-play-of-power-and-class/a-59873741