Privacy right is no cover for unlawful act: counsel

THE HINDU

When there is a conflict between individual right on homosexuality and societal interest in morality, the latter will prevail, counsel Harshvir Pratap Sharma argued in the Supreme Court strongly opposing the Delhi High Court judgment de-criminalising homosexuality between two consenting adults.

Appearing for the former BJP MP, B.P. Singhal, Mr. Sharma told a Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadhaya that fundamental rights should not be read in isolation. They should be read along with the Directive Principles of State Policy. Every fundamental right was subject to public health, morality and decency.

Counsel faulted the High Court judgment, contending that consent for unlawful act was not consent in the eye of law and one could not claim the right to privacy for indulging in it. The court had dismissed petitions claiming right to gamble. “Tomorrow a pregnant woman might claim the right of abortion. Will the court allow it?”

Pointing out that India is a country of different religions and cultural identities, counsel said the Supreme Court, while deciding the question of legalising homosexuality between two consenting adults, should take this factor into consideration.

He said the Naz Foundation, petitioner before the High Court, claimed that it was working on a HIV/AIDS prevention programme. But when the Lucknow police raided one of its premises, several articles and videos were seized and it was found that the Foundation was carrying out perverted sexual practices in safe places on a collective scale.

Arguing that Mahatma Gandhi had considered homosexuality a vice and immoral, counsel said the word ‘unnatural’ would mean immoral, irrational and against public policy, and any unnatural act would be an offence. Pointing out that the court could interfere only if there was violation of one’s fundamental right, he said that in this case there was no complaint of violation. It was mere apprehension of violation and the court could not interfere unless and until the right was violated, he said.

Additional Solicitor-General Mohan Jain, appearing for the Health Ministry, in his written submissions, explained its concern for opposing the High Court judgment. “According to the National AIDS Control Organisation, the overall HIV prevalence among different population groups in 2008-09 shows that HIV is higher among the HRG [High Risk Groups], Injecting Drug Users [IDU] 9.19 %, Men who have Sex with Men [MSM] 7.3% and Female Sex Workers [FSW] 4.94 %, while HIV prevalence among the general population is estimated to be less than 0.5%. The estimated number of MSMs and Transgenders [TGs] at high risk in 2009 is 4.12 lakh. Through Targeted Intervention [TI] projects, 2.85 lakh (69%) MSMs and TGs have been covered under services. Since many MSMs are married and have sex with women, their female sexual partners are also consequently at risk for HIV/infection” Reluctance to reveal the same sex behaviour rendered risky sexual practices going unnoticed and unaddressed in MSMs.

The ASG said: “The fear of harassment by law enforcement agencies mostly leads to sex being hurried, particularly because these groups lack ‘safe place’ and they often utilise public places for their indulgence. They do not have the option to consider safer sex practices. The hidden nature of such groups hampers interventions under the National AIDS Control Programme, which is aimed at prevention of AIDS. This makes a large section of MSMs invisible and unreachable.” By creating a friendly environment, the people involved in risky behaviour would be encouraged to reveal information and this would help in providing them total access to the services of preventive efforts.

The ASG said: “HIV Sentinel Surveillance in India, implemented by the National AIDS Control Organisation, is the largest and one of the best systems in the world. The methodology adopted is globally accepted and in accordance with WHO/UNAIDS recommendations for HIV/AIDS surveillance. For this purpose, sentinel sites are set up at specific service delivery points or facilities such as ANC [Antenatal clinic], STI [Sexually Transmitted Infection] clinics and TI projects. TI projects are NGO-based projects that provide prevention services to high-risk groups [Female Sex Workers, MSMs and IDUs.] They are reached at several identified “hot spots” such as brothels, clubs, bus stops, railway stations, parks, theatres, etc, where the high-risk group individuals can be approached. Based on data from the NACP on population size and vulnerabilities of the risk groups, these sentinel sites are established at places where high HIV prevalence is expected and therefore, need to be closely monitored under the programme.”

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2943631.ece

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When right to private defence is wrong

BY GEETA RAMASESHAN PUBLISHED IN  THE HINDU

A police claim of self-defence to justify encounter killings must be held to higher standards of proof as the force is armed and trained for combat.

The “encounter” deaths of five persons suspected of having carried out two bank robberies in Chennai is reminiscent of the Batla house encounter. It has once again focused attention on the practice of extrajudicial killings in Tamil Nadu. Reports in The Hindu indicated that the police got a tip-off about where the perpetrators were, after the photograph of one suspect appeared in the media. As a follow-up, the official version goes, policemen visited the premises where the five men were and asked them to surrender. They in turn fired on the police, which resulted in the five being shot dead. Such a construction poses many uncomfortable questions.

How was the man in the photograph identified as one of the five men in the house? Again, why did the police not wait for the men to surrender? At the time of firing there was nothing to indicate that those killed were involved in the heist. They were purported to have been identified by eyewitnesses after they were killed.

The official claim that the police had to exercise their right of self-defence as they were shot at raises more questions than answers. It sweeps under the carpet disturbing aspects about the modus operandi of the police, in instances when they seem to conduct themselves more like vigilante groups rather than as protectors of the law.

In all cases of encounter deaths, the practice is to claim that the killings were done in self-defence. Under the penal code, the right of private defence is available to all, and no distinction is made between the police and layman. However the taking away of life can be done only under exceptional circumstances. The person seeking the right of private defence must have a reasonable apprehension that the person who is killed, would have killed him or her, or caused grievous hurt, could commit rape, kidnapping or abduction.

Private defence or murder

As a necessary corollary to such defence it is imperative that there is a registration of a First Information Report (FIR) considering such a death as murder or culpable homicide not amounting to murder. In order to claim a right of private defence to cause death, the person must show that there were circumstances giving to reasonable grounds for apprehension that death, or other acts described earlier would have resulted if the right was not exercised. Courts have held that if medical examination of the person reveals superficial or simple injuries, there can be no right to private defence. The violence used to defend oneself must not be unduly disproportionate to the injury that is sought to be averted and should not exceed its legitimate purpose.

But in order to prove that it was a legitimate exercise of the right, it is necessary to have an investigation with the burden of proof shifting to the person who claims this right. This right to private defence cannot be used to punish a suspect.

However FIRs, in most encounter cases, invariably state that on seeing the police the other party opened fire with a view to kill or threatened to kill. The issue of considering whether the death was a result of private defence or was one of murder is never factored in the FIR. Family members of the deceased or human rights activists who wish to reopen such cases find it an uphill task to get even a death certificate or post-mortem report and are thwarted at every stage, often facing threats to their life.

NHRC guidelines

In response to a complaint from the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC) relating to encounter killings of suspected members of the Peoples’ War Group (PWG), the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a series of guidelines that required all police stations to immediately record such deaths and hand over investigation to an independent agency such as the CID if the persons concerned were from the same police station. The NHRC guidelines also directed that in cases of specific complaints of fake encounters it was necessary to register and investigate the case by a special agency such as the CID. Family members of the deceased are required to be associated with the magisterial enquiry that must be conducted in encounter deaths and prompt disciplinary action must be taken against errant officers.

While these guidelines were issued in 2003, the commission now seems to be condoning such violence. Recently, the Chairperson expressed his view that extrajudicial executions could solve law and order issues and cited examples of “encounter” deaths of persons suspected of being members of the Mumbai underworld and Maoists.

The Madurai based human rights organisation, People’s Watch, has documented at least 23 such instances in the past four years in Tamil Nadu and filed a public interest litigation seeking the appointment of a retired High Court Judge to investigate “encounter deaths” in Tamil Nadu and to register a FIR in every such case. The writ is still pending.

A lay person faces a trial if claiming right to private defence if it results in death. But despite being trained in combat and armed with weapons, those who indulge in encounters do not even face an investigation. Hence, the test for “reasonable apprehension” of imminent danger cannot be the same for such persons and needs to be addressed with a categorical shift in burden of proof in cases of such custodial violence.

(Geeta Ramaseshan is an advocate at the Madras High Court. E-mail: geetaramaseshan@gmail.com)

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article2943201.ece?homepage=true

Separate Investigation & Prosecution Cadre Proposed for Speedy Justice

Expeditious trial of cases has to be ensured by making necessary changes in procedure. States must create a separate investigation cadre. Separate prosecution cadre is also required. This was stated by the Union Home Minister Sh. P. Chidambaram at the Consultative Committee meeting of the Ministry of Home Affairs which discussed the topic: Investigation, Prosecution & Trial – the need for revamping. He informed members that Law Commission of India has been requested to give a report on the amendments required immediately. He said the Department- related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs while examining the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill, 2010 in its 146th Report has recommended that there should be comprehensive review of the Criminal Justice System and introduction of composite draft legislation for revamping of the Criminal Justice System in the country. Accordingly, Ministry of Law & Justice have been requested to request the Law Commission of India to examine and give a comprehensive report covering all aspects of criminal law, so that comprehensive amendments could be made in the various laws viz. IPC, Cr.P.C., Evidence Act, etc. It was also suggested that the Law Commission of India may also, inter-alia, take into account the recommendations made by Malimath Committee & other Committee/Commission in this regard. The recommendations of the Law Commission of India in this regard are awaited.

While initiating the discussion, the Union Home Minister said, the investigation has moved to technology based evidence, new forensic tools are used by other countries. We also need to move towards it. He said the Committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System, constituted on 24.11.2000 under the Chairmanship of Justice V. Malimath, former Chief Justice of Karnataka and Kerala High Courts, considered measures for revamping the criminal justice system and gave recommendations on various aspects of the criminal justice system including investigation, prosecution and the trial procedure in its Report submitted in March, 2003. Since the Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure are on the Concurrent List of Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India and the same are administered by the State Governments, any amendment to them requires consultation with the State Governments. In view of this, the report was forwarded to the State Governments and Union Territories Administrations to obtain their views/comments.

The Law Commission of India also reviewed the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 in its 154th Report. The 197th Report of the Law Commission of India examined the issues relating to appointment of Public Prosecutor. The view of the State Governments/Union Territory administration on recommendation of Law Commission have been sought. Some of the issues relating to investigation, prosecution and trial procedure highlighted in these reports are:

The Investigation Wing should be separated from the Law and Order Wing. A separate wing of the investigation with clear mandate and it is accountable only to Rule of Law is the needed. The Law Commission of India specifically discussed this issue threadbare in its 154th Report and categorically recommended for separating the investigating agency from the law and order police. Placement policy of investigating staff, inadequate training, Comprehensive use of Forensic Science from the inception and problems related to Medico Legal Services were highlighted.

Several measures have been suggested to improve the quality of investigation. Interrogation centres should be set up at district headquarters in each district where they do not exist and strengthened where they exist. A mechanism for coordination amongst investigators, forensic experts and prosecutors at the State at district level for effective investigations and prosecutions should be devised. A suitable provision be made to exclude the period during which the accused is not available for investigation on grounds of health etc. for computing the permissible period of police custody. Refusal to entertain complaints regarding commission of any offence should be made punishable. Stringent punishment for false registration of cases & false complaints.

Members highlighted that the common man suffers as the manner in which police investigation is conducted is of critical importance to the functioning of the criminal justice system. A prompt and quality investigation is the foundation of an effective criminal justice system. They also raised the issue of non-registration of cases by police in some cases. On this, Sh. P. Chidambaram informed Members that in Delhi all but sensitive FIRs are on website. The members also called for separate cadres for investigation work and prosecution.