The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lock-up tragedy rap for cops

Malda, Aug. 31: Justice Sujit Roy Barman of Calcutta High Court today criticised the high-handedness of police that resulted in suffocation deaths in a lockup here early this month.

It is a common practice to pay this extra money. You (lawyers) call it speed money, but we must put an end to this, Justice Roy Barman said at an informal meeting with the Malda Bar association today.

The judge was at the Malda court lock-up with Justice Arunava Basu for a fact-finding mission on the suffocation of two undertrials on August 1. At least 100 detainees had to be sent to hospital when the police crammed 262 of them in the small lock-up. Roy Barman appealed to lawyers to help prevent such tragedies in future.

Earlier, the lawyers complained to the judges about the inordinate delay in getting certified copies of court orders. District bar association secretary Ashit Bose alleged that it took more than 20 days to get a copy of the court order on bail petitions. As a result, persons freed on bail had to languish in jail just because their lawyers could not procure the order in time.

The August 1 tragedy is being attributed to such a delay in procuring receipts of fine paid by the relatives of the detainees lodged in a small over-crowded court lock-up. The lone photocopying machine in the district court has not been functioning for a long time.

The most serious complaint against the police high-handedness was raised by senior lawyer Goutam Mukherjee, who alleged that lawyers were not told why the police had arrested the persons and the nature of their crimes. We see the police bring many persons every day and lodge them in the court lock-up. These people could hardly defend their cases as the police do not divulge under which Act they were arrested in the first place. Even lawyers do not have access to the police case files.

Roy Barman assured the lawyers that steps would be taken to allow them access to police records of persons brought to the court for trial. I do not know why the Malda police is behaving in such a manner disregarding legal obligation. I shall advise the district judge to keep an eye on such police high-handedness in future, he said.

It is the Constitutional obligation of the police to provide necessary information about the crime for which the person has been arrested. If any arrested person seeks legal assistance the police is bound to allow him to contact a lawyer, the justice said.

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