Handcuffing Law in India

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Handcuffing Law in India

In the 2023 case of Sabah Al Zarid v. The State of Assam and others, the Gauhati High Court ordered the police to pay Rs 5 lakh in compensation to an advocate for handcuffing him without 'just cause'. This decision underscores the judiciary's ongoing commitment to uphold human dignity and personal liberty, reinforcing the principles laid out in earlier rulings, such as the Prem Shankar Shukla vs. Delhi Administration (1980) judgment, which emphasized the importance of treating individuals with dignity and set clear restrictions on the use of handcuffs. 

The Gauhati High Court's order in the Sabah Al Zarid case serves as a reminder of the legal protections against arbitrary and unjustified use of restraints on individuals, highlighting the importance of adhering to legal standards and procedures to safeguard personal freedoms and human rights.

In India, the legal framework and guidelines regarding the use of handcuffs are guided by the principles of necessity, minimum force, and human dignity. The law on handcuffing is not governed by a specific statute but is rather based on various judgments of the Supreme Court of India, which has laid down guidelines to prevent arbitrary and indiscriminate use of handcuffs.

Handcuffing Law in India

Meaning of Handcuffing

Handcuffing refers to the practice of using handcuffs, a pair of lockable metal rings connected by a short chain or hinge, to secure an individual's wrists together. This method is primarily used by law enforcement and security agencies to restrain individuals who are under arrest, in custody, or being transported to prevent them from escaping, causing harm to themselves, others, or property. Handcuffing is a physical restraint measure intended to control the movements of a detainee and ensure the safety of both the detainee and others.

The use of handcuffs is governed by specific laws, regulations, and guidelines that vary by jurisdiction. These regulations often stipulate when and how handcuffs can be used, emphasizing that their application should be justified, reasonable, and proportionate to the circumstances. The objective is to prevent abuse and ensure that the dignity and rights of the individual being handcuffed are respected, in accordance with principles of human rights and personal liberty.

Earlier said rules on the use of handcuffs

The Supreme Court has historically expressed its disapproval of the practice of handcuffing convicts and under-trial prisoners, emphasizing the need for law enforcement and correctional practices to align with the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of India. 

In a landmark ruling from 1980, the Court scrutinized various legal provisions and regulations related to the use of handcuffs, including the Prisoners (Attendance in Courts) Act, 1955; the Punjab Police Rules, 1934 (Volume III, Rules 26:22(i)(a) to (f), 26.21A, 27.12); Standing Order 44; and instructions on handcuffs from November 1977 and orders from April 1979. 

The Court underscored that these laws and regulations must comply with Articles 14 (Equality before the Law), 19 (Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.), and 21 (Protection of life and personal liberty) of the Indian Constitution, thereby highlighting the necessity for a humane and constitutional approach to the treatment of prisoners and underscoring the judiciary's role in safeguarding human rights and dignity against arbitrary and punitive state actions.

The Supreme Court has ruled that handcuffing is fundamentally inhumane, making it unreasonable, excessively harsh, and initially arbitrary. This stance is grounded in the principle that without a fair procedure and objective oversight, the use of restraints is akin to primitive, zoological tactics that are offensive to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the protection of life and personal liberty.

Despite this strong position against arbitrary handcuffing, the Prison Act of 1894 provides a legal framework for the use of handcuffs under specific circumstances. According to this Act, "The Superintendent may examine any person touching any such offence, and determine thereupon, and punish such offence by- imposition of handcuffs of such pattern and weight, in such manner and for such period, as may be prescribed by rules made by the State Government." 

This provision indicates that the use of handcuffs is not entirely prohibited, but it is regulated and subject to the discretion of prison superintendents within the bounds of rules established by the State Government. This creates a legal pathway for the use of handcuffs, but it also necessitates a balance with the broader constitutional protections against inhumane treatment.

Handcuffing under CrPC

The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973, does not explicitly mention the use of handcuffs for the arrest or transportation of detainees. The legal framework around handcuffing in India primarily comes from the interpretations of the law by the Supreme Court and High Courts in various judgements, as well as guidelines issued by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and internal police regulations.

While the CrPC provides comprehensive procedures for arrest, search, and detention, the use of restraints like handcuffs is guided by the principle of necessity and proportionality derived from case law. The judiciary has emphasized that handcuffing should not be the default practice and should only be employed when there is a clear and present risk of escape, threat to public or police safety, or when the detainee is prone to violence.

For instance, the Supreme Court in cases like "Prem Shankar Shukla vs. Delhi Administration (1980)" and "Citizens for Democracy vs. State of Assam and Others (1995)" set forth principles that discourage the indiscriminate use of handcuffs and stress that such measures should be an exception rather than the rule, underlining the importance of personal liberty and human dignity.

Recently in the case of Sabah Al Zarid v. The State of Assam and others in 2023 Gauhati High Court Orders Police To Pay Rs 5 Lakh Compensation To Advocate For Handcuffing Without 'Just Cause'.

The discretion to use handcuffs, as per the judiciary's guidance, lies with the arresting or detaining authority, but it must be exercised judiciously, with a clear rationale for its necessity in each case. Additionally, any decision to handcuff must be documented and justifiable to ensure accountability and adherence to the principles of law that protect individual rights against arbitrary detention and treatment.

Handcuffing Case Laws in India

Handcuffing in India is a practice that is regulated by legal and judicial guidelines, aiming to balance law enforcement's needs with the protection of individual rights and human dignity. The use of handcuffs is not explicitly detailed in statutes like the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), but its application is guided by the principles laid down by the Supreme Court of India in various landmark judgments. These principles emphasize that handcuffs should only be used as a last resort and under specific circumstances, reflecting a cautious approach to avoid unnecessary restraint and uphold the principles of liberty and freedom.

Prem Shankar Shukla vs. Delhi Administration (1980)

The case of Prem Shankar Shukla vs. Delhi Administration (1980) is a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of India that significantly impacted the legal discourse on the use of handcuffs and fetters on prisoners, particularly those in transit. This case is often cited as a critical reference in discussions about human rights, dignity, and the treatment of individuals under custody.

Prem Shankar Shukla, the petitioner, was a detainee under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA). He challenged the practice of being handcuffed while being taken to and from the court for hearings. Shukla contended that the automatic use of handcuffs on detainees without any specific reason or justification violated the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution, particularly the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21.

Supreme Court Judgment

The Supreme Court, in its judgment, underscored the importance of human dignity and criticized the indiscriminate and routine use of handcuffs and fetters on prisoners. The court held that:

  • Handcuffing should not be the norm but an exception, applied only when there is a clear, present, and substantial risk of the detainee escaping or when the detainee poses a danger to themselves or others.
  • The decision to handcuff must be justified with specific reasons, and such reasons must be recorded in writing by the authorities making the decision.
  • The use of handcuffs and fetters must be seen as a measure of last resort, reflecting a balance between the need for security and the fundamental rights of the individual.
  • The practice of indiscriminate handcuffing is an affront to human dignity and is not in line with the principles of a civilized society.

The Supreme Court, in its judgment, emphasized the dignity of the individual and stated that handcuffing should not be automatic in all cases involving the transportation of prisoners. The Court held that automatic handcuffing is an affront to human dignity and declared that it should be resorted to only when there is a clear and present danger of escape, breaking out of the police control, based on clear material, not mere allegations. The Supreme Court laid down guidelines to ensure that handcuffing is used only as a last resort and under specific circumstances where the security risk cannot be managed by other means.

Impact of the Judgment

The Prem Shankar Shukla vs. Delhi Administration case set a precedent for the treatment of prisoners and detainees in India, emphasizing the protection of their human rights and dignity. It established clear guidelines for law enforcement and prison authorities regarding the use of restraints, promoting a more humane approach in handling individuals in custody. The judgment reiterated that freedom and dignity are core values of the Indian Constitution that must be preserved, even in the case of individuals accused or convicted of crimes.

This case is frequently cited in subsequent legal arguments and judgments concerning the rights of prisoners and the conditions of their detention, reflecting its enduring influence on the development of human rights jurisprudence in India.

Citizens for Democracy vs. State of Assam and Others (1995)

The case of Citizens for Democracy vs. State of Assam and Others (1995) is another significant judgment by the Supreme Court of India that further examined the issue of handcuffing and the treatment of prisoners and undertrials. This case expanded on the principles laid down in the earlier case of Prem Shankar Shukla vs. Delhi Administration (1980) and reinforced the Supreme Court's stance against the indiscriminate use of handcuffs.

In this case, Citizens for Democracy, a non-governmental organization, filed a petition challenging the practice of handcuffing and chaining of prisoners, including undertrials, in the state of Assam. The petition highlighted specific instances where prisoners were paraded in public while handcuffed and chained, arguing that such practices were inhumane, degrading, and violated the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14 (Right to Equality), 19 (Right to Freedom), and 21 (Right to Life and Personal Liberty) of the Indian Constitution.

Principles Derived from Judgments

The Supreme Court, reiterating its earlier stance in Prem Shankar Shukla vs. Delhi Administration, condemned the use of handcuffs and chains as a matter of routine and without adequate justification. The Court held that:

  • Handcuffing and chaining violate the dignity of an individual and are not in accordance with the basic principles of human rights and the rule of law.
  • Such measures should only be applied in exceptional circumstances, where there is a clear and present danger of escape, and where the person in custody poses a serious threat to themselves or others.
  • The authorities must provide specific and cogent reasons for resorting to such measures, and these reasons must be recorded in writing.
  • The Supreme Court emphasized that the dignity of the individual should be upheld at all times, and the use of restraints should be minimized to ensure that the fundamental rights of individuals are not infringed upon unnecessarily.

Individuals who believe that they have been unjustly handcuffed have the right to seek redress through the courts. They can file a petition alleging violation of their rights under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to live with human dignity and personal liberty. The courts can investigate such claims and provide appropriate relief, including compensation in cases of rights violations.

The guidelines provided by the Supreme Court aim to ensure that the power to handcuff is exercised judiciously, balancing the need for security with the fundamental rights of individuals. Law enforcement agencies are required to follow these guidelines strictly and ensure that their officers are adequately trained in their application.

The Citizens for Democracy vs. State of Assam and Others judgment reinforced the legal framework protecting the rights and dignity of prisoners and undertrials in India. It underscored the need for law enforcement and prison authorities to exercise restraint and consider the human rights implications of their actions. This case, along with Prem Shankar Shukla vs. Delhi Administration, has been pivotal in shaping the discourse on the humane treatment of individuals in custody and has guided subsequent legal and policy reforms regarding the use of handcuffs and other restraints on prisoners and undertrials in India.

Sabah Al Zarid v. The State of Assam and others

The complainant, holding a law degree, was accused by an Assam Police Home Guard of assaulting him over a parking dispute near the complainant's residence. Subsequently, legal action was initiated against the complainant under Sections 294 (obscene acts and songs), 325 (punishment for voluntarily causing grievous hurt), 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), and 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

In a counter move, the complainant lodged a complaint against the Home Guard, invoking Sections 294 (obscene acts and songs), 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 392 (punishment for robbery), and 511 (punishment for attempting to commit offences punishable with imprisonment for life or other imprisonment) of the IPC. The complaint detailed allegations of verbal and physical abuse by the Home Guard, who also allegedly attempted to snatch the complainant's bag containing Rs.10,000.

Following the registration of the FIR by the Home Guard, the petitioner was summoned to the police station by an officer, where he was detained and subsequently informed of his arrest. The next day, he was presented before the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM), who ordered his transfer to judicial custody.

The petitioner contended that his handcuffing at the police station, during his hospital medical examination, and while being presented before and returned from the CJM, was in clear violation of established legal standards and the directives of the Supreme Court. He claimed that the continuous use of handcuffs throughout these processes was unlawful.

Judgment

The court examined the case, focusing on two primary concerns:

1. The legitimacy of handcuffing the petitioner at the time of arrest and the specific conditions that could warrant such an action.

2. The entitlement of the petitioner to receive compensation for any infringements committed by the arresting officer, including determining the proper compensation amount if warranted.

The Gauhati High Court ordered the police to pay Rs. 5 lakhs to a lawyer for handcuffing him without a good reason. The lawyer had sued because his basic rights were ignored when he was handcuffed after being accused of assaulting a Home Guard over a parking dispute. Despite the lawyer also accusing the guard of assault and theft, the police arrested him, and he was handcuffed in public, which went against Supreme Court guidelines that protect human dignity.

The police argued they followed the law after the arrest, but couldn't confirm the handcuffing details because the officer involved had passed away. The court found that handcuffing the lawyer was wrong and violated his rights, emphasizing that handcuffs should be used sparingly and with proper justification, to respect human dignity. The court decided the lawyer deserved compensation for this mistreatment and ordered the police to pay him Rs. 5 lakhs.

Supreme Court Guidelines On Handcuffing In India

Handcuffing without authority: Police and jail authorities do not have the inherent authority to handcuff inmates, whether in jails, during transport, or between jail and court proceedings, without specific directives.

Criteria for handcuffing: Handcuffing is permitted only under exceptional circumstances, such as when there is a strong inference that the prisoner may attempt to escape or poses a serious threat of violence.

Judicial permission: In cases where handcuffing is considered necessary, the authorities must seek permission from a magistrate, presenting a strong case for such an action.

Exceptional circumstances: The magistrate may grant permission for handcuffing if there is concrete evidence of the prisoner's propensity for violence, escape attempts, or when no other means of preventing escape are viable.

Remand cases: When a person is arrested and produced before a magistrate for remand, handcuffing is not permitted unless specifically ordered by the magistrate at the time of granting the remand.

Arrests under warrant: If a person is arrested under a warrant issued by a magistrate, they cannot be handcuffed unless the police have also obtained a specific order for handcuffing from the magistrate.

Arrests without warrant: In situations where an arrest is made without a warrant, the arresting officer can decide to handcuff the person based on the guidelines, but only until the individual is taken to the police station and then produced before a magistrate.

These guidelines are designed to balance the need for security and the potential risk posed by certain prisoners against the fundamental rights and dignity of all individuals in custody. They reflect a judicial approach that prioritizes human rights and sets clear limitations on the use of physical restraints.

Accused cannot be handcuffed without reason: Karnataka high court

In June 2022, the Karnataka High Court ordered a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to be paid to a law student for being unlawfully handcuffed by the police in the Belagavi district. Additionally, the court directed the Director General of Police to implement the use of body cameras to document arrest procedures.

The court observed, “An accused who is arrested can normally not be handcuffed." The court even asked the director-general of police to consider using body cameras to record the manner of arrests henceforth.

"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", the court said.

Justice Suraj Govindaraj of the Dharwad bench noted that the footage did not show the petitioner being publicly displayed around the town, hence negating the need for substantial compensation.

As a result, considering the arrest was legitimate and the primary issue was the unnecessary handcuffing of the petitioner, the judge found it appropriate to order the State to compensate the petitioner with ₹2 lakhs within six weeks.

Furthermore, the court instructed the police to obtain authorization from the trial court before handcuffing individuals under trial presented before such courts. The court warned, "Should the police fail to seek such permission and proceed to handcuff under-trial prisoners, the involved police officer risks the handcuffing being deemed illegal and facing subsequent penalties."

The court firmly stated, "No individual, whether an accused, an under-trial prisoner, or a convict, should be handcuffed without a recorded justification in the case diary or relevant records explaining the necessity for handcuffing," thus concluding its directives.

Individuals who believe that they have been unjustly handcuffed have the right to seek redress through the courts. They can file a petition alleging violation of their rights under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to live with human dignity and personal liberty. The courts can investigate such claims and provide appropriate relief, including compensation in cases of rights violations.

The guidelines provided by the Supreme Court aim to ensure that the power to handcuff is exercised judiciously, balancing the need for security with the fundamental rights of individuals. Law enforcement agencies are required to follow these guidelines strictly and ensure that their officers are adequately trained in their application.

Handcuffing as per new law the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS), 2023

The newly introduced Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023, clarify the confusion surrounding the Supreme Court's directives on the use of handcuffs, which are frequently violated, leading to complications for the police. This legislation seeks to establish clear guidelines and conditions under which handcuffing can be deemed appropriate, thereby providing a legal framework to ensure that police actions are in compliance with the law and human rights standards.

According to Section 43(3) of the Bill, only individuals categorized as habitual, repeat offenders who have previously escaped custody, members of organized crime syndicates, terror suspects, drug traffickers, murderers, rapists, currency counterfeiters, paedophiles, and economic offenders are permitted to be handcuffed. This section also applies to individuals involved in illegal possession of arms and ammunition, acid attack perpetrators, and those committing offences against the State, including actions that endanger the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India, or those involved in significant economic offences.

Clause 43(3) of BNSS says,

Clause 43(3) of the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) provides a detailed framework for the use of handcuffs by police officers, emphasizing the necessity of considering the nature and gravity of the offence committed. According to this clause, police officers are authorized to use handcuffs during the arrest of individuals who are involved in a wide range of serious crimes. 

These include habitual or repeat offenders who have previously escaped from custody, individuals involved in organized crime, terrorist activities, drug-related crimes, illegal possession of arms and ammunition, murder, rape, acid attacks, counterfeiting of currency, human trafficking, sexual offences against children, offences against the State that threaten its sovereignty, unity, and integrity, as well as economic offences. This provision aims to strike a balance between the need for effective law enforcement and the protection of individual rights, ensuring that the use of handcuffs is reserved for cases where it is deemed absolutely necessary due to the severity of the crime.

The parliamentary committee recommended amending Clause 43(3) of the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) to exclude "economic offences" from the list of crimes warranting the use of handcuffs during arrests.

This recommendation stemmed from the concern that the term "economic offences" covers a broad spectrum of crimes, ranging from minor to major infractions. The committee argued that applying a uniform policy of handcuffing to all individuals accused of economic offences, regardless of the severity of their alleged crimes, might not be appropriate. 

Given the diverse nature of economic offences, the committee suggested that including them as a criterion for handcuffing could lead to excessive and potentially unjustified use of restraints, thereby necessitating the proposed amendment to focus handcuffing practices on offences that pose a more direct and immediate threat to public safety and national security.

Is handcuffing is permitted in India?

Yes, handcuffing is permitted in India, albeit within strict guidelines and under specific circumstances. The primary criterion for handcuffing a prisoner, whether they are an under-trial or a convicted individual, is the existence of a clear and imminent risk of escape. This measure is not to be taken arbitrarily or as a routine practice.

Before proceeding with handcuffing, the police or law enforcement agencies are required to provide a justified reason for the necessity of such an action. This justification must be presented before a trial court, and it is only upon receiving explicit permission from a magistrate that the police are authorized to handcuff an individual. This protocol ensures that the practice of handcuffing is not misused and is applied judiciously, respecting the rights and dignity of the individuals involved, in accordance with the principles laid out in the Indian Constitution and upheld by various court rulings on the matter.

In 2016, the Bombay High Court ordered the union territories of Daman and Diu, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli to compensate a newspaper editor with Rs 4 lakh for being unlawfully handcuffed and paraded in public.

International Law on Handcuffing

International law on handcuffing, while not explicitly detailed in a single document, is influenced by various international human rights instruments and standards. These instruments aim to protect the dignity and rights of individuals in custody or detention, setting guidelines for the treatment of detainees that implicitly affect the use of handcuffs. The key principles are derived from the following sources:

1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

The UDHR, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, sets out fundamental human rights to be universally protected. Although it does not specifically mention handcuffing, its provisions on dignity, liberty, and security of the person (Article 3) and freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 5) provide a basis for arguing against unnecessary restraints.

2. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

The ICCPR, in force since 1976, commits its parties to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including rights to fair treatment in custody (Articles 9 and 10). These articles imply that any form of restraint, including handcuffing, should not be arbitrary and should respect the dignity of the person.

3. United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules)

Adopted in 2015, the Nelson Mandela Rules provide comprehensive guidelines on the treatment of prisoners, aiming to protect their fundamental rights. Rule 47 explicitly states that instruments of restraint are to be used only as a last resort, where other forms of control would not be effective to prevent escape or violence.

4. United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials

Adopted by the General Assembly in 1979, this Code emphasizes that law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty. This principle applies to the use of handcuffs, suggesting their use should be proportionate, non-arbitrary, and necessary under the circumstances.

5. European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)

For countries that are members of the Council of Europe, the ECHR provides a legal framework that includes the right to liberty and security (Article 5) and the prohibition of torture and inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 3). The European Court of Human Rights has ruled on cases involving handcuffing, emphasizing the need for its necessity and proportionality.

Conclusion

Handcuffing in India is a contentious issue that sits at the intersection of law enforcement efficiency and the protection of human rights. While it is recognized as a necessary tool in certain situations to prevent harm or escape, the legal and judicial frameworks emphasize its judicious use. Continuous dialogue, training, and awareness among law enforcement agencies, coupled with judicial oversight, are essential to ensure that the practice of handcuffing aligns with both public safety requirements and individual freedoms.

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Barristery.in: Handcuffing Law in India
Handcuffing Law in India
The Supreme Court has historically expressed its disapproval of the practice of handcuffing convicts and under-trial prisoners, emphasizing the need f
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