Judicial custody vs. Judicial responsibility

Here’s some food for thought:

Are Remanding Judges and courts morally and legally responsible for the safety and well being of persons in Judicial Custody? Are they under any obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of persons held in their Custody? Should they be held accountable for lapses committed by others acting under their direction? Is there such a thing as ‘Judicial Conscience’?

There are several incidents of police ‘encounter’ killings occurring as part and parcel of routine Indian police work (just google it if you wish to verify); Case(s) in point: the recent custodial murders at Nizamabad, Miryalguda, Ranga Reddy, and Sanga Reddy … ‘encounter killings’, the killing of prisoners, racial profiling, arbitrary Cordon and Search operations zeroing in on minority communities, illegal detentions, etc.

What’s surprising is, many of these ‘encounters’ involve the killing of Under- Trial suspects who are in judicial custody, i.e., purportedly under protection of the remanding judge.

What’s even more surprising is, there’s hardly any suo moto inquiry from the honorable court who assumed responsibility for the safety and well-being of the person(s) held in their charge; consequently, no accountability for use of deadly force against Under-Trials by the police – unless, of course, the incident has gained some notoriety or (short lived) publicity. Even then, such is the workings of our criminal justice machinery, the incident defaults to justifiable homicide or, more commonly, fades off into oblivion.

Two incidents come to mind:

Early April morning, Telangana police shot dead five Muslim youths, accused in terror cases (but were soon to be acquitted), while they were under judicial protection and being shifted from Warangal prison to Hyderabad Criminal court in a running vehicle. As expected, Police resorted to the usual justification, that they fired in ‘self-defense’ responding to a prisoner attempting to snatch a rifle; so, they shot them all!

But not a single cop had been injured, there was no evidence of a struggle in the transport vehicle, no forensic disposition relative to the line/angle of fire, distance of the purported confrontation, etc., and photographs released by police themselves show the deceased prisoners to be handcuffed to their seats!

Judging from the photograph, the handcuffs would allow perhaps a 3” reach with the armrest restraining any free movement sufficient to wrest the rifle away. Besides, if the deceased prisoner was in full control of the firearm and presenting a clear and present danger to the escort personnel (as the photo suggests), it would have instead been pointed toward the aisle to his right.

You may recall a similar incident occurring on December 14, 2008, where a bunch of scum bags accused of spraying acid on girls who rebuked their advances, were being transported under judicial protection from Hyderabad Court to Warangal Prison. They were all shot dead by escorting police personnel under very suspicious circumstances.

According to Police, those cowardly villains, under heavy armed escort, made a courageous break for freedom, barefoot, from a running vehicle but were conveniently cornered in a desolate forested area (away from eyewitnesses and the sound of gunfire). One of the ‘escapees’ conjured up a handgun; so, all three were summarily dispatched by well placed shots to their vitals (guilty be association?)

In line with the theme of a B-Class Telugu TV detective serial, a photograph showed a deceased suspect curiously still holding the handgun; his dead companions were unarmed. But in most all real life shootouts, the impact of the slug on a suspect’s body jerks the weapon loose long before he hits the ground! Was the gun planted? Hmmm…

There are several loose ends in both scenarios that reek of murder: like, for instance, no formal inquiry by police brass – and not a whimper of indignation from the judiciary.

Obviously, our police need training on how to create a halfway credible crime scene after the fact.

But perhaps, this is not really necessary in view of our brown-nosing media, a gullible public whose interest and attention span is easily manipulated, and a seemingly cooperative judiciary.

 

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