Recommending life in jail for public servants convicted of torture, the Law Commission said the government should ratify a UN convention to tide over difficulties in extraditing criminals from foreign countries due to the absence of a law preventing harsh treatment by authorities. It also said in case the government decided to ratify the UN convention on torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, a bill should be introduced in Parliament to amend various laws to prevent torture by government officials.
The draft ‘Prevention of torture bill, 2017’ proposed “stringent punishment” to perpetrators to curb the menace of torture and to have a deterrent effect on acts of torture. The punishment could extend up to life imprisonment and include a fine. The report submitted to the law ministry said the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, require amendments to accommodate provisions regarding compensation and burden of proof. It recommended an amendment to section 357B to incorporate payment of compensation, in addition to the payment of fine provided in the Indian Penal Code.
The report, now in the public domain, said the Indian Evidence Act required the insertion of a new section 114B. “This will ensure that in case a person in police custody sustains injuries, it is presumed that those injuries have been inflicted by the police, and the burden of proof shall lie on the authority concerned to explain such injury,” it said.
Referring to compensation to victims, it said the courts would decide upon a “justiciable compensation” after taking into account various facets of an individual case, such as nature, purpose, extent and manner of injury, including mental agony caused to the victim. “The courts will bear in mind the socio-economic background of the victim” and ensure that the compensation will help the victim bear the expenses on medical treatment and rehabilitation, the panel recommended.
The report also said an effective mechanism must be put in place to protect victims of torture, complainants and witnesses against possible threats, violence or ill-treatment. The Commission recommended the State own the responsibility for injuries caused by its agents on citizens, and the “principle of sovereign immunity cannot override the rights assured by the Constitution”. “While dealing with the plea of sovereign immunity, the Courts will have to bear in mind that it is the citizens who are entitled for fundamental rights, and not the agents of the State,” it said.
In July this year, the Centre had asked the panel to examine the issue of ratifying the convention after a writ petition was filed in a court.