“In a rule of law society operating under a constitutional order, either deterrent or preemptive executive action against prohibited human conduct including terrorist acts must be pursued only within the matrix of legislatively spelt out substantive and procedural rules of engagement and sanction. The executive, whether political or the professional has no legitimate authority to act in derogation, independent of or beyond the sanction of law. This is the price civil society and all institutions of government willingly pay for a constitutional way of life.”

 

Perhaps one of the most interesting and profound judgments off late has been that of Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee v. Govt. of AP, where the Andhra Pradesh High Court was deciding whether it is obligatory to file a First Information Report against the police officers who may have committed ‘crimes’ while taking part in an encounter. The judgment has come at a time when the country is grappling under terrorism, naxal ‘disorder’ and acts allegedly threatening the sovereignty of the state.

To elucidate the issue; when the police forces take part in an encounter that lead to the killing of persons, it was not possible to lodge or move ahead on filing an FIR by the victim. The apparent reason being because such acts were committed in exercise of the right of private defense and the executive then, in its discretion had the authority to dismiss the complaint. Furthermore, the state claimed immunity from disclosing the name of the police officers involved in the encounter operation thus making it difficult for an investigation to move ahead. These were the issues that the five judge bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court was called upon to decide.  

 

“In this case, the Court [was] called upon to identify the balance between the right to life of presumptive serious offenders of law and order and of the equilibrium of civil society; and the sovereign obligation of the State to maintain such law and order equilibrium, within the context of constitutional injunctions and legislative authority.”

In its ruling the Court held that it is obligatory on the police officer in charge of a police station to record an FIR under Section 154 even if it be committed against a police officer. In recording the FIR, the police officer cannot exercise any discretion in terms of the whether the offence had been committed or the complaint has any merit. This shall be the job of the judiciary and the existence of the claim of self defense is an extremely legal question that has to be determined only by a judicial process.

The judgment also delves upon certain essential principles of criminal law theory that would be useful for any law student.

In effect then, the Court negated an idea of immunity that could have been given to police officers that may have committed crimes in the guise of encounter deaths. Fake encounter killings are not inane to the Indian situation. Places like Kashmir, Gujarat, Punjab, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh was witnessed numerous instances where such encounters have occurred and this judgment of the Court re-iterates on the preservation of the rule of law and not giving a free hand to the police to kill.

This landmark judgment then came as a blow to the state government and the Centre who wanted some powers to check actions threatening the sovereignty of the state. When the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, the Court ordered a stay on the operation of the judgment and has scheduled a hearing soon.

Lord Cooke of Thorndon stated that his admiration for the Indian Courts (mainly the Supreme Court) in its ordinary work, particularly in the field of human rights, is no whit abated. He cited the judgment of Anand J. in DK Basu v. State of West Bengal to justify his statement. It takes a lot of courage for a Court of law to rule against a state policy and stand up for the protection of human rights. Though at times I have expressed by disgust for the way our judicial system works, these are solitary times when I wish I could retract my statement. Landmark decisions indeed !

 

Readers may also read Law and Other Things  on the case and developments therein. 

 

 

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