Report No. 152
1.7. As observed earlier generally the victims of custodial crimes belong to the weaker sections of society. In the event of death of the earning member of a poor family in custody, the family members of the deceased are left to lead a pathetic life in penury. Various enquiry commissions appointed by the Government to inquire into custodial deaths have recommended the amendment of the law, providing for relief and rehabilitation to the family members of the deceased1. The Supreme Court and other courts have also directed the State to pay damages to the affected family members.
The State functionaries including the Chief Ministers and Home Ministers have been granting ex-gratia payment to the affected family members of the victims of custodial crimes, but the existing law does not adequately provide for the grant of compensation or damages to the affected family members, nor there is provision for granting interim relief. No doubt relief for damages may be claimed in tort through a civil suit but the legal position in this respect is unclear and the process of civil suit is too cumbersome, making it illusory.
1. Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the death of Sri U. Narasimha in the Police Custody at Sanjeeva Reddy Nagar Police Station, Hyderabad on 10-7-1986, Government of Andhra Pradesh (1986); Report of the Commission of Inquiry of the death of Sri T. Murlidharan at Town Police Station, Vijayawada. on 17-9-1986 (Government of Andhra Pradesh, 1987); Yelleswaram on 26-8-1985, (Government of Andhra Pradesh, 1986); Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the death of Sri Machela Anjiah whilw in the Police Custody at Thungathurthi on 6-9-1986, (Government of Andhra Pradesh).
1.8. The Law Commission is entrusted with the task of examining the laws which affect the poor and suggesting such measures as may be necessary to harness law and the legal process in the service of the poor, keeping under review, the system of judicial administration to ensure that the system of judicial administration is responsive to the demands of the society in the light of Directive Principles of State Policy.
Though the Government has made no reference to the Law Commission on the subject under study, the Commission has taken up the matter suo motu for an in-depth study, with a view to providing relief to the victims of Custodial Crimes, which mostly belong to weaker sections of our society.
There have been demands in public to amend laws, both substantive and procedural, to minimise the occurrence of the custodial crimes and to provide for the relief to the victims and their dependents, hence this study. The Commission is conscious that abuse of power by the law enforcing agencies cannot successfully be prevented altogether as the obedience to the laws depends upon the social consciousness of the law enforcing agencies, consciousness of their commitment to the human rights and to the individual's freedom and liberty.
The law should be made stringent to eliminate chances of torture in custody and even if it is not possible to eliminate it altogether, efforts should be made at least to minimise it to maximum possible extent. The Commission has undertaken this task with the aforesaid object in view.
1.9. In order to elicit public opinion on the subject, the Commission circulated a Working Paper on Custodial Crimes, setting out various aspects of the subject under study. In the Working Paper1 the Law Commission formulated ten issues on various aspects of the problem of custodial crimes and invited opinion on the provisional proposals for the amendment of substantive and procedural laws.
The Working Paper was sent to all State Governments, Director-Generals of all State Police and para-military forces and also to the Home Ministry and Central Bureau of Investigation, and to Supreme Court, and High Court Judges, Bar Associations, academicians Law Professors, Human Rights agencies, Advocates and other persons. Comments received on the Working Paper are summarised in Appendix II.
The Commission has also organised an all India Seminar on "Administration of Criminal Justice, its problems and perspectives" at New Delhi, in the seminar Judges, Jurists, Advocates, Law Professors, Magistrates, and Police Officers expressed their views on various aspects of the administration of criminal justice. 'Custodial crimes' was one of the topics for discussion, which generated a lively debate. The Commission has, while formulating this report, taken into consideration the views expressed at the seminar.
1. See Appendix I.