J. Venkatesan

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed an Andhra Pradesh High Court judgment directing registration of cases against individual police officers responsible for encounter deaths or killings of naxalites in the State.

A three-judge Bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice J.M. Panchal stayed the impugned judgment dated February 6 after hearing senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for the appellant A. P. Police Officers Association.

The Bench issued notice to the State and other respondents including the A.P. Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC), the petitioner in the High Court.

Mr. Salve said going by the High Court order, cases would have to be registered even against those police officers involved in the Parliament attack and against the NSG commandos in the November 26, 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. He said no police officer would be able to counter terrorist or subversive elements.

On a petition from APCLC, a five-Judge Bench of the High Court ordered registration of cases of homicide against the police officers for the killing of eight Maoists in the alleged encounter on July 23, 2006 in the Nallamala forests in Prakasam district. The special leave petition (SLP) is directed against this judgment.

Important questions

The SLP raised important questions of law -- whether police officers were entitled to claim protection against investigation and prosecution for acts done in the course of their duty and whether such acts would constitute a cognisable offence; whether in the event of any injury or death to a person arising out of exchange of fire between such arrested person and police officers, the only defence available to police officers was on the ground of private defence and no other defence.

The SLP said the High Court had erred in holding that provisions of Criminal Procedure Code would not give any immunity to police officers involved in exchange of fire while dispersing an unlawful assembly and would be treated on a par with any civilian who “uses force in his self-defence.”

The High Court failed to appreciate that police had special responsibilities and obligations in maintaining law and order and they could not be equated with others, the SLP said and prayed for quashing of the impugned judgment and an interim stay of its operation.