The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that henceforth all encounter killings by police will be thoroughly investigated after registration of FIRs to “bring to justice the perpetrators of the crime who take law in their own hands”.
Issuing detailed guidelines, the court held an “independent investigation into the encounter shall be conducted by the CID or police team of another police station under the supervision of a senior officer — at least a level above the head of the police party engaged in the encounter”.
“We are of the view that it would be useful and effective to structure appropriate guidelines to restore faith of the people in police force. In a society governed by rule of law, it is imperative that extra-judicial killings are properly and independently investigated so that justice may be done,” said a bench led by Chief Justice of India R M Lodha.
The probe report shall be forwarded to the court concerned so that a magisterial inquiry is carried out and a final report, in the form of a chargesheet or a closure report, is presented, it said.
“No out-of-turn promotion or instant gallantry rewards shall be bestowed on the concerned officers soon after the occurrence. It must be ensured at all costs that such rewards are given or recommended only when the gallantry of the concerned officers is established beyond doubt,” said the bench, also comprising Justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton F Nariman.
The bench said, “The killings in police encounters affect the credibility of the rule of law and the administration of the criminal justice system. It is the constitutional duty of this court to put in place certain guidelines adherence to which would help in bringing to justice the perpetrators of the crime who take law in their own hands.”
It said that if an incriminating chargesheet is filed against the police officers, the trial must be concluded expeditiously, apart from initiating disciplinary action against such officers and placing them under suspension.
The bench said the trial court shall grant compensation to the dependants of the encounter victim under Section 357-A of the IPC. The relatives of a victim can also approach a sessions court if the authorities fail to comply with the Supreme Court directives on either starting a probe or conducting it impartially.
The court said that if a police officer was found to be prima facie accused of an offence, he or she will surrender his or her weapons and any other material, subject to the rights against self-incrimination. An intimation about the incident, the court said, must also be sent to the police officer’s family and legal assistance should also be provided if asked for.
The court was hearing petitions by NGO People’s Union for Civil Liberties, which had raised the issue of genuineness or otherwise of nearly 99 encounters between the Mumbai Police and alleged criminals resulting in death of about 135 persons between 1995 and 1997.
The court regretted that in spite of Constitutional and statutory provisions aimed at safeguarding the personal liberty and life of a citizen, the death in police encounters continued to occur.
It underscored that the court was “not oblivious to the fact that police in India has to perform a difficult task when many hardcore criminals with organised gangs have taken strong roots in society. “But then such criminals must be dealt with by the police in an efficient and effective manner so as to bring them to justice by following rule of law,” it said.