Instead of asking “vague questions” to the accused produced before them by the police, judicial officers should specifically ask the accused whether they have been tortured by the police.
A set of new guidelines issued by the Kerala High Court in the wake of the infamous Nedumkandam custodial death case has directed judicial officers to look for instances of custodial torture when the accused is produced before them. It was the “lack of diligence” on the part of a judicial officer which resulted in the “injuries inflicted on an accused by the police” escaping her attention, that prompted the court to frame the guidelines.
“Vague questions such as whether the accused has any complaints or whether he has anything to say” will not suffice. When an accused was produced before a judicial officer by the police, it was the duty of the officer to ascertain whether he had been subjected to torture by police, said the circular issued by P.G. Ajithkumar, Registrar (Subordinate Judiciary) to all the judicial officers of the State.
Whenever the police produced an accused before a judicial officer, the officer should “elicit whether or not the accused has been subjected to torture by the police and record the same,” it said.
Incidentally, an inquiry by the Registrar (Vigilance) of Kerala High Court into the lapses on the part of the magistrate before whom Rajkumar of Idukki, the accused, was produced, had concluded that if the magistrate were little more diligent and asked probing questions, she could have obtained a better picture on the arrest and the custodial torture. The registrar also concluded that prima facie there were no lapses on the part of the Idukki magistrate.
The reported custodial torture and death of Rajkumar had rocked the State and the Crime Branch had booked cases against a few police officials for custodial murder. The autopsy report of Rajkumar, who was picked up by the police on June 12, revealed that he died due to the torture he suffered in police custody. There were also 32 wounds in his body. The public outcry against the custodial deaths also forced the State government to announce a judicial probe into the incident.
The circular also banned all the judicial officers from using police vehicles for travel for their private or official purposes. Judicial officers have been asked to follow the guidelines in addition to the existing ones “scrupulously” and any violation of the directions would be viewed seriously, cautioned the circular issued in this regard.