Encouraging Police 'Encounters' Will Lead to Arbitrary State Action: Former SC Judge

Speaking one year after the Hyderabad encounter, Justice J. Chelameswar said that if summary trial and summary justice are promoted, 'any innocent person can become a victim'.

New Delhi: Delivering a lecture one year after the Hyderabad police killed four suspects in the rape-and-murder case of a veterinarian in an alleged encounter, former Supreme Court judge J. Chelameswar cautioned that ‘summary justice’ and police encounters could lead to a situation where any innocent person becomes a victim of ‘arbitrary state action’.

According to Bar & Bench, the retired judge underscored the importance of protecting rule of law. Referring specifically to the Hyderabad encounter, Justice Chelameswar said if “police action of encountering accused is promoted, any one among us could be the victim tomorrow”.

He was delivering a lecture at ICFAI Law School in Hyderabad on Sunday.

“It is all fine when we read in newspapers about summary trial and summary justice. But the point is, it may not stop with those four persons. If this kind of system is promoted, any one of us, any innocent person can become a victim. If the local policeman is not happy with you, he can simply say that you are guilty of some offence and then anything can happen thereafter,” he said.

The former judge noted that news of the encounter of the four suspects in Hyderabad was greeted with celebrations by civil society, which hints at the ‘inefficiency of our law enforcement machinery’.

“In other words, civil society has come to accept State action without following the due process of law. They (civil society) may have many reasons. They may tell us that the judicial process is too slow. It might take 20 years to convict them and then there is appeal and further appeal to Supreme Court. There are all kinds of arguments. But why are such arguments being made? It is basically the inefficiency of our law enforcement machinery which include the investigating agencies, prosecuting agencies and the judicial wing do not promote the requisite confidence in the civil society,” he said, according to Bar & Bench.

Batting for strong attention to be paid to implementation and enforcement of laws, Justice Chelameswar said that laws are there on the statute book “but we find a lot of inadequacies when it comes to implementation”.

If the implementation is not efficient, the occurrences of offences become more frequent, he said.

“(Inefficient) implementation of law is a problem which we face in this country almost on a daily basis. However well drafted and beautiful the law is, unless it is enforced properly the society cannot be said to be governed by rule of law,” he said.

The former judge urged law students to ensure efficient enforcement of the law so that rule of law is protected. “In the long run, unless we take care of [it,] the system itself might get paralysed. People might lose faith in the system. I don’t want to sound very ominous but these are the possible consequence of an inefficient system,” he added.

The Hyderabad police had claimed that the suspects were killed in an act of self-defence after they tried to attack police officers. However, a petition filed in the Telangana high court said the encounter appears to have been staged.

Also Read: Seven Other ‘Encounters’ Suggest Telangana Police Is Using a Rehearsed Script

A day after the alleged encounter, Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde – speaking at an event in Jodhpur, had also expressed his concerns. He said acknowledged that there is a debate to be had about the it takes to dispose of a criminal matter. But, he added:

“But I don’t think justice can ever be and ought to be instant. And justice must never ever take the form of revenge. I believe justice loses its character of justice if it becomes revenge.”

On December 12 last year, the top court appointed a three-member inquiry commission to investigate the incident. In July, the commission was granted an extension of six months to conclude the probe due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.