Legal protection of detainee from handcuffing and police brutality in India


One of the most common misconceptions among the general public is that when a person is arrested, the police will place handcuffs around his wrist. Arresting a person doesn’t mean that the police have to put them in handcuffs. This is one of the most common violations of the fundamental rights of the accused or detainees by the police. There is a lack of public and police awareness about these issues, which leads to police handcuffing people during arrests or taking them to court. It’s a well-established law in India that a person cannot be put into handcuffs without a prior magistrate’s order. Police can put people in handcuffs only in cases where they have proper justification for their actions. The honorable Supreme Court of India made it clear a long time ago that the use of handcuffs by police in India should be restricted as it’s a violation of the constitutional rights given by law to all, i.e., the right to dignity and the right to liberty. Handcuffing a person is against Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The honorable Supreme Court of India has made it clear in numerous cases that police have to get prior permission from the court before handcuffing an accused person. No person can be handcuffed without recording a reason, and a trial court order is mandatory for this. A person can be handcuffed when there is a risk of escape.
Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration, (1980) 3 SCC 526, is the landmark judgment related to this issue where the court by relying on the Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, (1980) 3 SCC 488 case states that “the convicts are not wholly denuded of their fundamental rights, held that: The indiscriminate resort to handcuffs when accused persons are taken to and from the court and the expedient of forcing irons on prison inmates are illegal and shall be stopped forthwith, save in a small category of cases dealt with next below, Reckless handcuffing and chaining in public degrade, puts to shame finer sensibilities, and is a slur on our culture. Where an undertrial has a credible tendency for violence and escape, a humanely graduated degree of ‘iron’ restraint is permissible if only other disciplinary alternatives are unworkable. The burden of proof of the ground is on the custodian. And if he fails, he will be held legally liable”. In the Prem Shankar Shukla case, it was decided that handcuffing should only be used in extreme cases and never regularly. The escorting officer must notify the judge before whom the accused is brought and obtain his approval before placing the accused in handcuffs. The accused cannot be handcuffed until permission is granted.
Citizens for Democracy vs. State of Assam and Ors., 1995 (3) SCR 943, was the case in which the court, relying on the Sunil Batra and Prem Shukla decision, issued strict directions regarding the handcuffing which states that:
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 a 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 well-grounded basis for drawing a strong inference that a particular prisoner is likely to jump jail or break out of the 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 arrest 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 warrant the police officer concerned may if he is satisfied, on the basis of the guide-lines 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.
These guidelines should be known by all members of the public as well as the police. It has been seen in numerous cases that the court’s direction has been violated by the police. Recently, in June 2022, a law student from Karnataka was awarded Rs. 2 lakhs as compensation for being handcuffed by the police. In this case, the Karnataka High Court has asked the DG of police to use body cameras to record the manner of the arrest. In many other cases, courts have given compensation to the victim whenever the police have failed to comply with the guidelines given by the Supreme Court. Maybe one of the reasons for this is the lack of knowledge relating to judgments passed by the Supreme Court. There is a need for regular training of police officers, not below the rank of assistant sub-inspector, regularly, so that they should know about the changing dimensions of the law and also be aware of the judgment passed by the Supreme Court for the protection of the citizens. Every citizen of our country must be aware of such judgments. It’s their right to know about the laws that have been framed for their protection. They should also be aware of the legal and judicial remedies available to them for their protection. Doctors generally write in their prescriptions “ Prevention is better than cure”, and we lawyers say “be aware of your rights” because that is the best way to protect yourself from any injustice.
Dr Pyali Chatterjee is HOD, Faculty of Law, ICFAI University, Raipur Chhattisgarh.