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Ignorance is Not Bliss

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The DG (Prisons) had to apologise to the Delhi HC for the illegal detention of a prisoner for 10 days despite bail being granted to him.

By Gautam Mishra

IN a surprising development, DG (Prisons) Sandeep Goel had to tender an unconditional apology for an inappropriate explanation submitted by the Superintendent, Central Jail I, Tis Hazari, for keeping a person in unlawful detention even after the Court had granted him bail in all his cases.

This case has brought into focus the fact that often police officers lack an understanding of the law. For instance, many still lodge FIRs under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, even after the Supreme Court has scrapped it.

In the present case, a bench of the High Court, comprising Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad, noted: “There’s a lack of basic knowledge to interpret legal orders on part of the jail authorities, they should brush up their law.” The petition was filed by a prisoner who had been granted bail in two complaints filed against him under the Negotiable Instruments Act. Yet, he was illegally detained for 10 days even after completing all the formalities as directed by the Court. The bench said: “We’re deeply dissatisfied by the way through which the superintendent tried to defend himself. There’s no legal basis for that.” The bench directed the DG (Prisons) to conduct an inquiry and file a status report. After assessment of the report, the bench said that officers posted in jails, particularly superintendents, deputy superintendents and assistant superintendents, must be apprised of their duties and obligations so that such an incident is not repeated. The bench then directed the Delhi State Legal Service Authority to conduct online workshops for all the jail superintendents and to make a special module specifying the duties, obligations, and prisoners’ rights.

The Supreme Court has already laid down the following principles in cases of illegal detention:

(1) Monetary compensation for violation of fundamental rights to life and personal liberty can be determined.

(2) If infringements of fundamental rights cannot be corrected by any other methods open to the judiciary, then the right to compensation is opened.

In another case last month, an accused released on bail was detained. A bench of the Punjab & Haryana High Court asked Chandigarh’s Senior Superintendent of Police and Superintendent of Jail to showcause why contempt of court proceedings should not be initiated against them. Justice Manoj Bajaj of the Court said: “The facts and circumstances of the case, prima facie, make out the detention of the petitioner not only illegal, but it amounts to wilful and deliberate disobedience of the order of release of the petitioner on bail.”

The Karnataka High Court too has observed that there is a lack of elementary knowledge of criminal law and stated that police officers, including IPS officers, need to be trained under the guidelines indicated by the Supreme Court in the Lalita Kumari judgment. The guidelines mandate registration of FIRs and training police officers.

Similar strictures were passed against the police in the Delhi riots case, where a Delhi HC bench headed by Justice S Murlidhar said that “the police should be guided by the judgment of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Lalita Kumari versus Government of Uttar Pradesh and others case and go strictly by the mandate of the law”.

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