India: No Arrest for Crimes with Seven-Year Max Sentences
If a new law passed by the Indian Parliament gets final approval, police in India will no longer arrest people accused of crimes carrying a maximum sentence of seven years or less – and will issue tickets for a court appearance instead. If a suspect fails to appear in court, he or she can then be arrested. Crimes carrying a penalty of seven years or less include kidnapping, robbery and attempted murder.
The Indian Parliament passed the law last month with no debate, and it now only needs the approval of President Pratibha Patil. The new law was apparently driven by the need to ease overcrowding in jails and to prevent wrongful arrest. In several cases, citizens and lawyers had complained that Indian police arrested ‘suspects’ in criminal investigations simply to extract bribes from them – or locked up all possible suspects while investigating. Arrestees with no involvement in crime would spend months in jail before they got a hearing. (Of course, that happens around the world.)
At one level, this is an eminently desirable outcome since it will prevent (or at least minimise) harassment and extortion by the police—especially since there is nothing to suggest that the number of custodial deaths is on the decline. Not allowing arrest as a first step has the important consequence that the routine “third degree” treatment that the police metes out to suspects who are arrested, in order to extract confessions, could become less rampant. If this forces the police force to improve its crime solving methods and techniques, it would translate into a revolution in Indian policing and criminal prosecution. However, such favourable outcomes cannot be assumed when there appears to be no action taken by the police to get ready for the new reality.