Pointing out that custodial torture and other police atrocities are problems that still prevail in society, Chief Justice of India N V Ramana Sunday said the “threat to human rights and bodily integrity are the highest in police stations”.
He flagged the issues of human rights and dignity, saying these are “sacrosanct”.
“The threat to human rights and bodily integrity are the highest in police stations. Custodial torture and other police atrocities are problems that still prevail in our society. In spite of constitutional declarations and guarantees, the lack of effective legal representation at the police stations is a huge detriment to arrested/detained persons,” the CJI said, addressing an event organised by National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).
“The decisions taken in these early hours will later determine the ability of the accused to defend himself. Going by the recent reports even the privileged are not spared third-degree treatment,” he said.
“To keep police excesses in check, dissemination of information about the constitutional right to legal aid and availability of free legal aid services is necessary. The installation of display boards and outdoor hoardings in every police station/prison is a step in this direction,” CJI Ramana said, as he called upon NALSA to carry out nationwide sensitisation of police officers.
He said the concept of free legal aid to the needy has its roots in the freedom movement. “Those days, the legal luminaries rendered pro-bono services to freedom fighters, who were targeted by the colonial rulers. This spirit of service found reflection in the Constitution, with those very same legal luminaries serving as members of the Constituent Assembly.”
Stressing the need to work on access to justice for all, irrespective of their socio-economic status, CJI Ramana said this is imperative to ensure that we remain a society governed by rule of law.
“If we want to remain a society governed by the rule of law, it is imperative for us to bridge the gap of accessibility to justice between the highly privileged and the most vulnerable. For all times to come, we must remember that, the realities of socio-economic diversity which prevail in our nation, cannot ever be a reason for denial of rights,” he said.
Asking not to let the past determine the future, he said that project “Access to Justice” is an unending mission for the country so that it can dream of a future based on legal mobility, a future where equality is a reality. “If, as an institution, the judiciary wants to garner the faith of the citizens, we have to make everyone feel assured that we exist for them. For the longest time, the vulnerable population has lived outside the system of justice,” the CJI said.
Pointing out that “prevailing obstacles like lengthy, painstaking and expensive formal justice processes add to the woes of realising the goals of Access to Justice”, CJI Ramana said: “As an institution, the toughest challenge before us is to break these barriers first.”
Making it clear that accessing justice in India is not merely an aspirational goal, he said, “We need to work hand in hand with various wings of the government to make it a practical reality.”