On 24 May, 2016, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court has upheld the verdict given by the High Court Division 14 years back prohibiting arbitrary arrest of someone without any warrant and interrogation in remand under the Sections 54 [Section 54 deals with arresting without warrant by the police.] and 167 [Section 167 deals with the procedure when investigation cannot be completed within 24 hours.] of the Criminal Procedure Code of 1898. The Court, however, upheld the HCD directives with some modifications and guidelines.
A four members bench headed by Chief justice Surendra Kumar Sinha on May 24, 2016 dismissed a government appeal filed challenging the verdict given by the High Court. The government’s appeal sought setting aside the High Court directive on it to amend the colonial era’s draconian Code of Criminal Procedures which allow the police to arrest and detain citizens on mere suspicion and take them into remand for interrogation.
The Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha told the attorney general as well as the lawyers representing human rights groups that as the government showed no interest to amend the Sections 54 and 167 of the CrPC over the last 14 years, the apex court, in its full verdict, would spell out the guidelines relating to implementation of the HC directives and the recommendations.
Looking Back to the High Court Approach :
In 1998, a series of custodial deaths shook the nation. On July 23, 1998, upon the death of a private university student Shamim Reza in Detective Branch (DB) police custody who was arrested under Section 54, the amendment of the two Sections of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1898 was demanded by the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Service Trust (BLAST). The BLAST filed a PIL writ petition in this regard. Following the PIL writ petition, the High Court Division (HCD) ruled upon the government on November 21, 1998.
On April 7, 2003, the High Court Division finally gave 15 points directive including those of arrest and remand of persons to the government and asked it to implement the directives within 6 months.
Those directives include-
- Law enforcers must not arrest anyone under section 54 to put him/her into detention.
- They shall show their identity cards while arresting the person.
- They shall inform the person of the reasons behind the arrest within three hours.
- They must inform relatives of a person arrested anywhere outside his/her house or workplace within an hour of arrest through telephone or a messenger.
- The detainee shall be allowed to meet lawyers and relatives for legal assistance.
- If the law enforcers want to quiz the person in custody, they must need to take permission from a magistrate and the interrogation must take place in a glass made room inside the prison. Relatives and lawyers of the detainee can be present outside the room.
- The detainee must be checked by a doctor before and after the interrogation.
- If the detainee alleges physical torture during interrogation, the magistrate shall form a medical board to check his/her health condition. If the allegation is found to be true, the magistrate shall take action against the law enforcers responsible under Section 330 of the CrPC, 1898.
Apart from asking the police not to make any further arrest on mere suspicion and interrogate the arrested in custody, the High Court also asked judicial magistrates to remand the detained in custody for a maximum of three days in exceptional cases only after reports of obtaining medical tests on the detained. Judicial magistrates were also asked to seek another report from the doctor, who earlier conducted the tests, after the remand and take suo moto action against investigation officers in case there were any complaints of torture or death in law enforcer’s custody. The directives required the investigation officer and the jailor to immediately inform judicial magistrate of deaths, if any, in custody, apart from asking for the construction of glass-walled rooms at jail gates for interrogation.
Regrettably, however, almost all the directives still remain unheeded. What is more unfortunate is that even the Appellate Division’s verdict issued in May upholding all the directives has so far also met the same fate.
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