The Punjab and Haryana High Court has ordered an inquiry into the claims of illegal detention and custodial torture of Dalit labour activist Shiv Kumar. In this context, let us look at how Indian law protects an accused against custodial violence.
What does the law say about the police torturing an accused person?
A police officer cannot torture a person to force a confession from them, or to make them point out where they have hidden stolen property, etc.
Torture broadly means any act by a public official which inflicts severe pain or suffering (physical or mental) on a person for reasons such as:
- Getting information or a confession
- Punishing the person for a suspected offence
- Intimidating the person
What is the punishment for torturing an accused for information?
The punishment for torturing a person in police custody is jail time for up to seven years, and a fine. The law can punish anyone who voluntarily hurts a person to force them to:
- Confess or give information about an offence or misconduct; or
- Restore any property or fulfill any demand.
If an officer causes grievous hurt, like fracturing a bone or damaging a muscle on the face, the punishment is jail time for up to ten years, and a fine.
Will the court accept a forced confession?
No. A confession made by an accused person is irrelevant in a criminal proceeding if the court thinks that the person made it due to a threat or promise by a person in authority. The court must believe that the threat or promise made the accused think that their confession would get them an advantage in the case or help them avoid punishment.
A confession made to a police officer is not valid evidence against the accused in court, unless they made it in the presence of a Magistrate.
Can the court compensate an accused for police torture?
Yes. The Supreme Court has said that it is the police’s responsibility to ensure that a person in their custody is not deprived of their fundamental right to life.
If a person faces custodial violence, a criminal court can award them monetary compensation to remedy the wrong done by the police and punish the police for violating their public duty and the person’s fundamental rights.
The person can also approach a civil court separately to get monetary compensation there as well.
What can a person do if the police illegally detains them?
Anyone can file a habeas corpus writ petition to ask the court to secure the release of a person who is illegally restrained and deprived of their liberty.
The court can issue the writ of habeas corpus to any public authority having a person unlawfully in their custody, and order the authority to bring the person before the court. In this manner, the court inquires into the circumstances of any person’s detention and can give the necessary judgement against unlawful restraint.