BLAST and others vs. Bangladesh and others [‘Section 54 Guidelines Case’, or ‘Rubel Killing Case’ or ‘Guidelines on Arrest and Remand Case’]

Writ Petition No. 3806 of 1998

High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh

BLAST, Ain o Salish Kendra, Shonmilito Shamajik Andolon and several individuals filed a writ petition in the High Court challenging the abuse of police powers to arrest without warrant under Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrCP) and the abuse of powers regarding taking the accused into remand (police custody) under Section 167 of the CrPC. The petitioners referred to recent incidents of gross abuse of power, including allegations of custodial death, torture and inhuman treatment, especially the killing of a young student, Rubel, in remand after arrest under Section 54 of the CrPC.

Argument: The petitioners argued that law enforcing agencies routinely abuse the powers granted under Sections 54 and 167 of the CrPC, and further that these provisions suffer from vagueness and allow for arbitrary exercise of power. The petitioners argued that the Court should enunciate safeguards to prevent or curtail police abuse of powers and arbitrary actions by Magistrates, which constitute violations of citizens’ fundamental rights to life and liberty, to equal protection of law, to be treated in accordance with law and to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment as guaranteed under articles 32, 27, 31, 33 and 35 of the Constitution.

Order: The High Court initially issued a Rule Nisi, and upon full hearing delivered judgment on 07.04.2003, observing that Sections 54 and 167 of the CrPC are not fully consistent with constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and safeguards. The Court laid down a comprehensive set of recommendations regarding necessary amendments to both sections of the CrPC, along with the Police Act, The Penal Code and the Evidence Act, and directed that these should be acted upon within six months. It also laid down a set of fifteen guidelines with regard to exercise of powers of arrest and remand:

  • No Police officer shall arrest anyone under Section 54 for the purpose of detention under Section 3 of the Special Powers Act, 1974
  • A police officer shall disclose  his/her identity and show his/her ID Card on demand to the person arrested or those present at the time of arrest
  • A record of reasons of arrest and other particulars shall be maintained in a separate register till a special diary is prescribed
  • The concerned officer shall record reasons for marks of injury, if any, on the person arrested and  take him/her to nearest hospital or government doctor
  • The person arrested shall be furnished with reasons of arrest within three hours of bringing him/her to the Police Station
  • If the person is not arrested from his/her residence or place of business, the relatives should be informed over the phone or through messenger within one hour of bringing him/her to Police Station
  • The person concerned must be allowed to consult a lawyer of choice or meet nearest relations
  • While producing the detained person before the Magistrate under Section 61 of the CrPC, the police officer must forward reasons in a forwarding letter under Section 167 (1) of the CrPC as to why the investigation could not be completed within twenty four hours and why s/he considers the accusation and information to be well founded
  • On perusal of the forwarding letter, if the Magistrate satisfies him/herself that the accusation and information are well founded and materials in the case diary are sufficient for detaining the person in custody, the Magistrate shall pass an order of detention and  if not, release him/her forthwith
  • Where a person is released on the aforesaid grounds, the Magistrate shall proceed under 190(1)(c) of the CrPC against the Officer concerned under Section 220 of the Penal Code.
  • Where the Magistrate orders detention of the person, the Officer shall interrogate the accused in a room in a jail until a room with glass wall or grille on one side within sight of lawyer or relations is constructed
  • In any application for taking accused in custody for interrogation, reasons should be mentioned as recommended
  • The Magistrate while authorizing detention in police custody shall follow the recommendations laid down in the judgment
  • The police officer arresting under Section 54, or the Investigating Officer taking a person to custody or the jailor must inform the nearest Magistrate about the death of any person in custody in compliance with these recommendations
  • The Magistrate shall inquire into the death of any person in police custody or jail as per the recommendations.

Status: The Government has preferred an appeal (Civil Appeal No. 53/2004), which is now pending before the Appellate Division. However, no stay was granted and the Guidelines are in force.

Laws Cited: Constitution, Articles 27, 31, 32, 33 and 35; The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898

55 DLR (2003) 363


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