Do you have any rights against being handcuffed in India? Can police handcuff you in any kind of case?
Arrests are not made the way they have been portrayed in movies. In movies, you might have seen police handcuffing an accused during arrest and taking an accused to court. But handcuffing is only allowed under certain circumstances and police have to record a justifiable reason. The police has to obtain permission from a trial court to fetter an accused. Therefore, police cannot handcuff you without a magistrate’s order.
In the late 70s and 80s, the Supreme Court had made major observations and developed jurisprudence around the restricted use of handcuffs by police in India. The apex court made it mandatory for the law enforcement officers to get permission of the court before handcuffing an accused.
Handcuffing Is Against The Basic Human Dignity: Supreme Court
In the eyes of law, every person is equal and has multiple human rights. Judicial system ensures that human rights of every person, whether an accused or a convict, shall be protected. Therefore, it’s not that easy to handcuff a person. Under law, an accused is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Handcuffing a person amounts to defiling his/her dignity.
Why handcuffing is prohibited in India?
The Supreme Court in its directives have made it clear that no person can be handcuffed without recording a reason and a trial court’s order is mandatory.
Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, (1978) 4 SCC 494
In Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, (1978) 4 SCC 494, the Supreme Court held that Article 21 forbids deprivation of personal liberty except in accordance with the procedure established by law and curtailment of personal liberty to such an extent as to be a negation of it would constitute deprivation.
The apex court noted that the minimum freedom of movement which even an under trial prisoner is entitled to under Article 19 of the Constitution, cannot be cut down cruelly by application of handcuffs or other hoops.
“The indiscriminate resort to handcuffs when accused persons are taken to and from court and the expedient of forcing irons on prison inmates are illegal and shall be stopped forthwith save in a small category of cases. Reckless handcuffing and chaining in public degrades, puts to shame finer sensibilities and is a slur on our culture,” the bench stated.
Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration, (1980) 3 SCC 526
While examining the rationale behind fetters, Supreme Court (in Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration, (1980) 3 SCC 526) noted that prima facie handcuffing is inhuman and hence unreasonable as well as arbitrary in absence of fair procedure and objective monitoring.
The bench had stated, “To prevent the escape of an under-trial is in public interest, reasonable, just and cannot, by itself be castigated. But to bind a man hand and foot, fetter his limbs with hoops of steel, shuffle him along in the streets and stand him for hours in the courts is to torture him, defile his dignity, vulgarise society and foul the soul of our Constitutional culture.”
The apex court noted that there is no compulsive need to fetter a person’s limbs; it is sadistic, capricious, despotic and demoralising to humble a man by manacling him. Therefore, the bench held that handcuffing should be the last refuge and not a routine regimen.
The bench also denounced the practice of making classifications in handcuffing prisoners where higher class prisoners not to be fettered but an ordinary citizen would. The bench termed the classification arbitrary. The Punjab Police Manual in paragraphs 26.21A and 26.22 of Chapter XXVI was deemed to be arbitrary as it stated that every undertrial who is accused of a non-bailable offence punishable with more than three years prison term shall be routinely handcuffed.
“It is abhorrent to envisage a prisoner being handcuffed merely because it is assumed that he does not belong to ‘a better class’, that he does not possess the basic dignity pertaining to every individual,” the bench noted.
In the directives issued by the Supreme Court, it was mentioned that the escorting officer must show reasons to the presiding judge behind handcuffing a person and shall obtain judge’s approval. Therefore, in its judgment, the apex court left the discretion in the hands of the trial court to decide whether an accused or prisoner should be handcuffed or not.
The directive validates incapacitation by irons only when there is no other reasonable way of preventing the escape in such circumstances.
Right Against Handcuffing Under SC Guidelines
The bench comprising Justice Kuldip Singh and Justice N. Venkatachala reiterated the two above mentioned judgments in Citizens For Democracy vs State Of Assam And Ors (1995).
Supreme Court considered a letter written by journalist Kuldip Nayar which mentioned the ordeal of detainees under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act in Guwahati at a hospital. The detainees were handcuffed to their beds at a hospital despite the fact the rooms were barred and a heavy police force was deployed there.
The police officer gave a justification that the detainees are hardcore criminals and were involved in terrorist and disruptive activities, murder, extortion, etc.
The bench disappointedly quoted its previous two judgments from both Prem Shukla and Sunil Batra which dealt with the extreme situation where police can resort to handcuffing a prisoner in prison or outside the prison.
“The directions given by this court are not being followed and are being treated as a pious declaration. We take judicial notice of the fact that the police and the jail authorities are even now using handcuffs and other fetters indiscriminately and without any justification. It has, therefore, become necessary to give binding directions and enforce the same meticulously,” the bench stated.
Supreme Court Guidelines On Handcuffing In India
Expressing its displeasure with the continuous violation of previous directives, the Supreme Court issued stricter directives.
- We declare, direct and lay down as a rule that handcuffs or other fetters shall not be forced on a prisoner – convicted or under-trial-while lodged in jail anywhere in the country or while transporting or in transit from one jail to another or from jail to court and back.
- The police and the jail authorities, on their own, shall have no authority to direct the hand-cuffing of any inmate of a jail in the country or during transport from one jail to another or from jail to court and back.
- Where the police or the jail authorities have a well-grounded basis for drawing a strong inference that a particular prisoner is likely to jump jail or break out of custody then the said prisoner be produced before the magistrate concerned and a prayer for permission to handcuff the prisoner be made before the said magistrate.
- Save in rare cases of concrete proof regarding proneness of the prisoner to violence, his tendency to escape, he being so dangerous/desperate and the finding that no other practical way of forbidding escape is available, the magistrate may grant permission to handcuff the prisoner.
- In all the cases where a person arrested by police, is produced before the magistrate and remand – judicial or non-judicial – is given by the magistrate the person concerned shall not be handcuffed unless special orders in that respect are obtained from the magistrate at the time of the grant of the remand.
- When the police arrests a person in execution of a warrant of arrest obtained from a magistrate, the person so arrested shall not be handcuffed unless the police has also obtained orders from the magistrate for the handcuffing of the person to be so arrested.
- Where a person is arrested by the police without a warrant the police officer concerned may if he is satisfied, on the basis of the guidelines given by us in para above, that it is necessary to handcuff such a person, he may do so till the time he is taken to the police station and thereafter his production before the magistrate.
Legal Provisions For Handcuffing By Police In India
Besides Supreme Court directives, the Prisons Act also governs the laws related to prisoners. As per the Prisons Act of 1894, the permission to use fetters change with every state if the state government allows it.
Section 46(7) of the Act talks permits the use of fetters as a punishment for offences committed in prison mentioned under Section 45. These offences include assault, disorderly behaviour, wilful damage to property, feigning illness, among others. Besides confining the offender with fetters, the other type of punishment includes cellular confinement, whipping, hard labour, etc. Women and civil prisoners cannot be confined in fetters.
Under 56 of the Act, the jail superintendent may confine a prisoner in irons for the safe custody of prisoners, subject to the State Rules.
Section 57 of the Act deals with confinement of prisoners under sentence of transportation in irons.
Section 57 (1) — Prisoners under sentence of transportation may, subject to any rules made under section 34 , be confined in fetters for the first three months after admission to prison.
Section 57 (2) — Should the Superintendent consider it necessary, either for the safe custody of the prisoner himself or for any other reason, that fetters should be retained on any such prisoner for more than three months, he shall apply to the Inspector General for sanction to their retention for the period for which he considers their retention necessary, and the Inspector General may sanction such retention accordingly.
Section 58 of the Prisons Act states, “No prisoner shall be put in irons or under mechanical restraint by the jailer of his own authority, except in case of urgent necessity, in which case notice thereof shall be forthwith given to the superintendent.”
International Guidelines On Handcuffing Prisoners
The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners aka Nelson Mandela Rules were unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015.
Rule 47(1) states that the use of chains, irons or other instruments of restraint that are inherently degrading or painful shall be prohibited.
Sub-rule 2 states that other restraining instruments can be used if authorised by law as a precaution during transfer and by prison authorities if other methods of preventing the prisoner from injuring other prisoners or damaging property, fail.
Human Rights Violations
An arrested person, whether an under-trial prisoner, a detainee and even a convicted prisoner, is deprived of liberty. Article 21, which states that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law, permits such deprivation of liberty.
As mentioned in the Supreme Court directives as well as laws governing the handcuffing of prisoners in India, binding a person in judicial or police custody amounts to a violation of the right to life of a person.
Handcuffing a person would also amount to a violation of the right to equality under Article 14 as if the person is being treated differently in comparison to the other prisoners. It would violate the right against discrimination under Article 15 of the Indian Constitution when the person is handcuffed owing to his religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
Law Student Gets Rs 2 Lakh Compensation For Being Handcuffed Without Magistrate Order
In June 2022, Karnataka High Court awarded a law student Rs 2 lakh compensation for being handcuffed by the police in Belagavi district. The bench also asked the Director General of Police to use body cameras to record the manner of arrests.
“An accused who is arrested can normally not be handcuffed,” the bench noted.
The bench added, “It is only under extreme circumstances that handcuffing of an accused can be resorted to. When such handcuffing is made, the Arresting Officer is required to record the reasons for handcuffing, which would have to sustain scrutiny.”
Is handcuffing allowed in India?
As you have read so far, handcuffing is allowed in India but only under certain circumstances. A prisoner can only be handcuffed when there is a clear and present risk of escape. Police has to justify the reason before trial court and if the Magistrate gives the permission, only then police can handcuff a person.
This article is written by Varsha. You can reach out to the author via email at email@example.com.