Arrests: Police must follow new guidelines

The court has warned the police and the magistrates of departmental action if the law is flouted.

Arrest of an individual is the most potent weapon in the police armory. It is a weapon which is freely used for both legal and illegal purposes. Arrest curtails a person’s right to liberty and causes humiliation. If an innocent is arrested it causes an indelible scar on him and his family.

While many arrests are made to please the police and political higher-ups and sometimes even society, some are made with the sole purpose of harassment and corruption.

Earlier a law abiding citizen wasn’t bothered about arrests.  However the introduction of Section 498A in the IPC in 1983, relating to cruelty by husband or relations of husband, changed this. Though Section 498A was introduced with noble intentions, it came to be misused in a stunning manner.

Not only ordinary men and women, but also  the rich and the powerful, the high and mighty, the old and infirm were subjected to arrests and thrown behind bars. In 2012 almost two lakh persons, 25 per cent of them women, were arrested in India for this offence. 

Instead of helping  married women in distress, this section became a tool for vengeful persons. Though voices of protests were raised they were feeble. The large scale arrests of citizens under the dowry laws generated debates about the power of police to arrest and its general misuse.

Crucial balance

Not only the law commissions and the police commissions, the courts too repeatedly exhorted the police to maintain a balance between individual liberty and social order and not to arrest the accused persons in criminal cases as a matter of routine. 

Since nothing much changed, Parliament amended laws relating to arrest in 2008 and 2010.  Apart from amending Section 41 of the Criminal Procedure Code which deals with arrest, four new sub-sections were added.

The power of police to arrest without warrant was restricted to only serious offences that attract punishment of seven years imprisonment or more (earlier it was for 3 years) and those committed in the presence of the police. If there is a fear that the accused may abscond himself, or commit further offences he can be arrested even if the prison term is less than seven years.

In all other cases a notice was to be issued to the accused person to appear before the investigating officer and arrest can be made only if a very strong ground existed. The police are to record the reasons for arresting or not arresting any accused.

The law made it mandatory for the police to display the names of the arrested on the notice boards of police offices and allowed the arrested person to meet an advocate of his choice during interrogation. The amendments are meant to prevent police harassment to citizens.

It is a matter of shame that even five years after the amended law came into force, police across the country continue to follow the law prior to the amendment and surprisingly no hue and cry was raised. But the increasing number of arrests of innocents in dowry cases made citizens to protest and this culminated in the Supreme Court judgment in July 2014 reiterating the guidelines regarding arrest.

The court has ruled that while making arrests extreme care and caution is to be exercised by the police. It directed DGPs to issue a circular to investigating officers in this regard. It not only has made police accountable but also warned the magistrates, before whom the police produce the accused person for remanding to custody, of departmental action if the law is flouted.

The court said that before the arrest the police officer should question himself whether the arrest is really required, what purpose it would serve and the objects it would achieve.

The court directed the magistrate to satisfy himself if the arrest is in accordance with law and satisfies all the requirements of Section 41 of CrPC. The magistrate should ask the police to furnish a detailed report on the grounds of an arrest and only after satisfying that the arrest is necessary the same would be authorised.

The latest ruling of the Supreme Court is expected to bring relief to thousands of citizens, who are facing accusations in criminal cases, more so to those falsely implicated in dowry harassment cases.
It is hoped that the latest directions which hope to put an end to corrupt practices, are strictly enforced by the police top brass.

(The author is a retired Director General of Police, Karnataka)

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