We are not a civilised society if people are put behind bars without fair procedure: Justice Goel

We are not living in a civilised society if a person can be put behind bars without fair procedure, Justice A.K. Goel, the Supreme Court judge who authored the March 20 judgment banning immediate arrest under Dalit protection law, observed on Wednesday.

Justice Goel, heading a Bench comprising Justice U.U. Lalit, addressed the Centre while hearing a review petition filed by the Centre and States, including Tamil Nadu and Kerala, against the March 20 judgment.

The judgment had directed the police to conduct preliminary enquiries before arresting persons accused of insulting or hurting Dalits. This direction went against the very grain of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989, which mandates immediate arrest of the accused.

Justice Goel said, in an obvious criticism of the 1989 Act, that “even the Parliament cannot deny the fundamental right to life and liberty”.

Justifying the March 20 verdict banning immediate arrest under the 1989 Act, Justice Goel observed that adherence to a fair and reasonable procedure before arrest is expected in every provision of law. A person’s liberty cannot be shackled without due procedure.

Justice Goel pointed out that the 1989 Act allows arrest of accused persons “without anybody’s scrutiny and based on a one-sided version”.

The hearing occurred even as the Centre looks to promulgate an ordinance under the 1989 in a bid to overcome the effect of the March 20 verdict.

Justice Goel abruptly cut short the hearing. The Bench then scheduled the case to July, after the court re-opens post summer vacations. Justice Goel is retiring on July 6. It may be that the review petitions would be heard again after Justice Goel’s retirement.

In the previous hearing, Justice Goel had explained that the police need to conduct a preliminary enquiry before arrest only in cases where they feel a complaint filed about an atrocity committed on Dalits is outright “absurd” or “absolutely” frivolous.

The Supreme Court had never intended, in its March 20 judgment, to make preliminary enquiry before arrest a mandatory condition in each and every complaint filed by Dalits under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989, Justice Goel qualified the verdict.

The direction was meant to avoid prosecution of innocent people in frivolous cases filed under the Atrocities Act.

Justice Goel said “what is happening now is that everybody is arrested under the law even if the probe officer is convinced there is no case”.

But Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal had said the judgment had led to more crimes committed against Dalits.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2020 8:15:42 AM |

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