HL Deb 16 March 1911 vol 7 cc511-24

*LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH rose to ask the Secretary of State for India whether the attention of the Government has been called to the cases of torture and extortion by the police recorded in the latest Annual Reports of the Inspector-General of Police in certain Provinces, resulting in more than one death of the tortured prisoners; and whether he has considered the opportunities for such cruelties offered by the provisions of the existing law authorising magistrates to remit untried prisoners for considerable periods of time to the custody of subordinate policemen; and whether any steps are in contemplation, by an amendment of the law or otherwise, to discourage the practice so strongly condemned by the Report of the recent Police Commission of the police working for confessions in gross abuse of their powers; and whether the Government of India proposes to give effect to the express recommendation of the Commission that the investigation of charges brought against the subordinate police should be dealt with by the district magistrate or some such competent and impartial authority.

The noble Lord said: My Lords. I rise to address to my noble friend below me the Questions which stand in my name. I hope I shall not find it necessary to trouble your Lordships at any length, though the matter is one of painful interest. It has in former years occupied the attention of my noble friend, and I regret that on his reoccupation of office it should be necessary to bring it again before him. The Questions deal with the conduct of the police of India in the investigation of crime. Your Lordships know that in all countries and in all ages the police have been subjected to much criticism for their methods in investigating crime, and even in our own country, in spite of our advanced civilization, questions have been not infrequently raised with reference to the conduct of our police. I have known several successive Home Secretaries and I once had the honour of being Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, but I do not know a Home Secretary who has not been called upon at some time or another to shield or excuse the police under his control. As to the Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, no session passes without his having to defend the conduct of the police under his administration; and I need not speak of the criticisms habitually lavished on the police of foreign countries, especially those where there are not the personal liberty and security of justice which we enjoy. It would not be surprising, therefore, that in India there should be lapses from the standard which we cherish, and that criticism should now and then be expressed in regard to the conduct of the police there. It is inevitable that such lapses should happen, and it is not to be objected that criticism should be roused to direct attention to the shortcomings of the service with a view to its improvement.

I do not want to go back any great distance of time, but some five or more years ago, when Lord Curzon was Viceroy of India, a Viceregal Commission reported on t he conduct of the police. At the head of that Commission was a very distinguished public official. Sir Andrew Fraser, Lieut.- Govern or of Bengal. The. Report is extremely painful reading, though Very creditable for thoroughgoing candour on the part of the members of the Commission. It shows that the ordinary investigation of crime, especially crime happening in a village community in the East, by the police of India affords a sorry spectacle. The Whole village is harried by the investigation that follows. A great body of police go down and occupy the area; all the population are sometimes summoned to attend upon them; the examination is very rude and rough; and, in the words of the Commission, bullying and threatening of suspected and innocent persons is very common. The ordinary policeman conceives that some person or other for some reason or other has been the perpetrator of the crime under investigation, and the method to which he is prone to resort, to which he is under temptation to resort should say, is that of threatening, bullying, and otherwise overawing the criminal, or supposed criminal, until he is led to a confession. Actual physical torture leaving marks behind it is rarely resorted to, but it is easy to conceive how in a village community in India a great deal of torture short of absolute physical torture may be perpetrated. The Commission go on to make the terrible statement that, if the police fail to get up evidence in that way, they frequently do not shrink from bolstering up perjured evidence in order to sustain a charge against a person whom they suspect of being guilty. As I say, actual resort to physical torture is not so common, hut illegal detention, neglect of the regulations with regard to the use of handcuffs, and general want of consideration for those who deserve every consideration until at least something has been done to prove them guilty, are ordinary characteristics of the conduct of the police according to this Commission. The Commission add that working for confession is a practice exceedingly common amongst the police of India.

This was a Report made some five years ago, and we all hope that there have since been improvements. But, unfortunately, there is much evidence that even still not merely the smaller processes of bullying and threatening but the actual graver processes of torture are not wholly extinct. I turn to the last Report of the Inspector-General of Police for Bengal—the Report for 1909. He says that in that year there were seven cases alleged against the police of torture for the purpose of extorting confession. Three of them were unsustained and dismissed, in two cases there were convictions, and two remained under investigation. There were only two cases the year before, and seven may be an extraordinary number; but the fact that there had been two convictions and two eases remaining under investigation is in itself a painful fact. In the Report of the Inspector-General of Police for Madras I find reference to two cases in the same year-1909. One was a very grave case involving several police officials in the torturing of two or three prisoners for the purpose of extorting a confession, the torturing resulting in, or at all events followed by, the death of one of the tortured. In that case some of the police were sentenced to terms of rigorous imprisonment. That is one example of the terrible extent to which the practice may still be traced. There was another case in the same province℄Madras—in which three constables were charged with torturing a man from whom they were extorting hush-money in order to save his being exposed to the penalties of a misdemeanour. In that case also the punishment inflicted resulted in death. There were two deaths in the Province of Madras in one year from this cause.

The Inspector-General of Police for the United Provinces states in his Report that torture has not been wholly eradicated from the United Provinces. The efforts of himself and his deputy inspectors have, he says, been directed towards eradication, but they have not been altogether successful. He quotes the opinion of magistrates and officers under hint with reference to the working for confession which prevails, and one magistrate goes the length of suggesting that confession should not be admissible in evidence at all. The latest Reports of the Inspectors-General of Police for Madras, Bengal, and the United Provinces all show that torture working for confession, which the Police Commission presided over by Sir Andrew Fraser found to be exceedingly common, has not ceased to exist. The number of cases may be relatively few, but there they are, and I do not think we can find much comfort in their being relatively few. The Inspector-General of Police for Bengal deprecates an accumulation of criticism on these details, and suggests that, after all, the number of cases is not very great, and that the offences proved against the police are comparatively slight in their character compared with the barbarities which are perpetrated between themselves by the members of the classes from whom the police are drawn. This is, your Lordships will confess, a very sorry apology, if it is to be an apology, for what exists. It is intelligible that an officer doing what is probably his best should chafe under criticism and that he should not like these black spots pointed out, but an official must bear criticism as best he can, and public criticism cannot be held back in so grave a matter as this.

The object of my Questions is to inquire, dative to the Report of the Viceregal Commission in 1905 and the Reports that have since been issued, whether my noble friend below me can give any statement as to what the Government have done to carry out the recommendations of the Commission, and whether they have considered any other ways of meeting the evils to which that Commission drew attention. The Royal Commission spoke of illegal detention. There is one mode of detention which is not illegal because it is permitted by the Indian Penal Code, but which still is of so questionable and doubtful a character that it may have been considered by His Majesty's Government. I venture to submit that it deserves consideration. There is a provision in the Indian Penal Code under which a man charged with a crime can be remitted by a magistrate who has not himself jurisdiction to try the prisoner to the custody of a police officer instead of being sent to prison or let out on bail to await the carrying on of the charge. There may be questions of convenience here and there in a country like India for not always sending an accused prisoner straight to prison, but manifestly the detention of an accused person by the investigating officer of police is opening the way to a great deal of malpractice, and it is worthy of consideration whether that provision should not be revised and perhaps rescinded. It is better if a man cannot be let out on hail to remit him to gaol rather than commit him to the care of the investigating officer, who is thereby placed in the temptation to indulge in the objectionable practices to which I have referred.

If we remember the extreme care in which we here guard the admission of statements made by accused, the almost superstitious way in which we fence round the accused to prevent his being led to make any statement which might injure his defence, safeguards which have been the result of experience of abuses in past generations—if we remember all this I think there is grave ground for suspicion of the free admission of confessions in the case of prosecutions in India, and for, if not wholly denying the admissibility of confessions, at all events more rigidly safeguarding them from abuse and prescribing more strictly the conditions under which they should be admitted. The facility with which this practice of working for confession has been resorted to has often resulted in defeating itself. The man under arrest who is morally if not physically tortured to make a confession makes the confession, and from that time gets easier treatment till the time comes for the trial, and then he repudiates the confession and the case has to he begun again.

I have mentioned two things to which I think attention might be directed. There is a third, arising out of the Report of the Viceregal Commission. The standard of conduct in the investigation of crime in India, as elsewhere, differs when it is a judicial standard and when it is a police standard. We know quite well how much we owe in our own country to the action of Judges and magistrates in correcting the conduct of the police. Similar need is to be observed in Indian experience. The Viceregal Commission report that they had evidence of the disastrous consequences following from the neglect which had befallen the strictures which judicial persons had put on the conduct of the police in the investigation of crime, and the laxity of the attention which had been paid to them; and they recommend that, in the case of any prosecution for crime, where the presiding Judge or magistrate has reason to criticise the conduct of the police he shall make a careful note giving what has occurred, and shall forward it with his judgment to the proper district, where it should be made the subject of inquiry by a competent and independent authority. That is a matter of vital importance, and I hope my noble friend will be able to tell us what has been done in the way of carrying out that recommendation.

I have brought the history down to the year 1909, but even since then there has been a very painful case in which death has followed—we know it only from the newspapers. The case was confirmed before the Supreme Court of Judicature in Bengal, the Chief Justice presiding, and police officers were convicted of torturing for the purpose a obtaining a confession. I hope, my noble friend will be able to give us, some hope that if, as is confessed, the working for confession by torture has not been eradicated, steps are being taken to reduce it to the smallest possible limits by the punishment of all persons detected to be in any way engaged in it, and the prompt bringing before an independent inquiry of all cases of alleged malpractices. I know the delicacy of this last suggestion which, however, was made by the Royal Commission. We all know that here and there charges arc brought against the police and calls made for independent judicial. inquiries into their conduct. If they were all entertained there would be endless cases of inquiry, and many of them would be found to be wholly unsustainable; but when serious cases are noted by magistrates in the carrying through of criminal prosecutions and representation is made to the proper authority, in such cases I think we ought to look for and expect, unless there is special reason to the contrary, some examination by an authority other than that of the police itself. There is small comfort in setting the police to investigate the shortcomings of the police. Where such serious cases as I have referred to exist proper inquiry should be made.

I know there are considerations which have to be borne in mind. There is the low pay of the police as a body, and the low condition of preparation in education and in morality of the classes from whom the police of India are almost necessarily drawn. This is a difficulty which I admit might be overcome by a little more liberal expenditure of money. In any case we must look into it and see whether it cannot be improved. At present, undoubtedly, the police of India cannot be said to take a very high rank under any test of qualification. In Madras I find that, out of the ordinary constabulary, 48 per cent. are absolutely unable to read or write. That, however, is a far less proportion than prevails in Bengal, where 64 or 65 per cent. are wholly illiterate; and that, again, is far outdone by the condition of the case in the United Provinces, where no less than 78 per cent. of the police are said to be illiterate. Even some of the officers, though not many relatively to the whole force, in Bengal and in the United Provinces are said to be quite illiterate. Something should be done to elevate the status of the lowest class of the police, because that status not only reflects upon the character and conduct of the lowest class but has produced, I am told, a difficulty in recruiting officers. It may be necessary to resort to some means, whether by increased pay or other processes I know not, of getting a superior class of persons to execute this important function of police investigation in criminal prosecutions in India. I beg to ask the Questions standing on the Paper in my name.


My Lords, I make no complaint whatever of my noble friend bringing this subject before your Lordships' House. For several years it was my business in another place to deal with complaints of the same purport, and I have never, either when I was concerned with Irish Government or during the five years I was at the India Office, made them a ground of complaint provided that the critics were sure of their facts and were fair in intention and purpose. I sometimes found in another place that those who were most severe in their criticisms were neither sure of their facts, nor, though fair, wholly unbiassed.

An idea possesses certain minds that our government of India is essentially in nature arbitrary and capricious. That point of view I need not say I do not accept, and I do not suppose anybody in your Lordships' House for a moment accepts it. It is not true. It could not be true, because, after all, these gentlemen are Englishmen—where they are not Scotsmen—and have the same standards of what is just and right as we have in this kingdom. At the same time, I have never thought that it was good for the Government of India to be exempt from Parliamentary criticism. First of all, I think it is inevitable. Whatever we may do or say, opinion in this country will insist on making itself felt in any part of the Dominions of the King. My noble friend has to-night shown no unfairness—of that he is incapable—no unfairness of intention, and such facts as he has brought to your Lordships' notice are reasonably sure, though they need interpretation. When it is said that the Secretary of State in dealing with criticisms and complaints is bound to rely upon the word of officials in India, I would observe that the frank—perhaps over-frank—nature of the Report of this Commission, which was composed mainly, if not entirely, of officials of the Government of India, is what my noble friend himself has relied upon. Therefore that particular point may be dismissed.

I have no desire, and never have had a desire, to whitewash the Administration of India in the matter of criminal investigation. But, as my noble friend knows, such matters are extremely delicate, and more delicate in India, where you have a small governing class and a huge population alien from it in tradition, habits of mind, and habits of life. Criminal investigation in those conditions is eminently a very difficult matter to deal with. To illustrate the peculiar difficulties, I may mention that you are dealing with a population of 232,000,000 scattered over an area of 1,000,000 square miles, and you have dealing with this enormous area and population a total police force of 176,000 men controlled by about 530 superintendents and assistant superintendents, mostly, if not all, Europeans. It is plain, therefore. that you cannot apply to this handful of police scattered over an immense area the same standards that you would if you were sitting in Quarter Sessions.

As to the practice of detention, I would like to inform the noble Lord and the House what the facts really are. My noble friend did not seem to be aware that the police now may under no circumstances keep anybody in their custody for more than twenty-four hours. Suppose, then, that the police wish for a remand. They have to apply to a magistrate and produce the accused man, and if the unfortunate man has been tortured, then is his opportunity to complain. He has nothing to do but to say to the magistrate, "I have been so pressed and bullied and threatened that I confessed." Let us go to the period of detention. The magistrate must record his reasons for granting a remand, and the aggregate of remands must not exceed fifteen days. It is not an indefinite remand, and the magistrate is not empowered to grant the fifteen days remand at one stroke. Day after day, or every other day, they may get some new material, but at the end of fifteen days that process is over.


As I understand, power is given to remit to the custody of the officer for fifteen days or less, but I do not understand that at the end of that fifteen days he may not get a fresh order.


I understand not. At the end of the fifteen days the man must be brought on his trial before some Court. Further, this exercise of power to remand is zealously watched by the superior Courts. It is no interest of theirs that this power of remand should be abused in the way that I thought my noble friend was describing, and time tendency of their rulings has been to cut down the discretion of the magistrates in this respect. In the Punjab, for example, a standing order is issued for the guidance of the police, defining narrowly the grounds on which a remand should be applied for, discouraging applications on other grounds, and laying down positively that no application shall be made on the ground that an accused person is likely to confess.

I now come to the point of confessions, which has no doubt greatly exercised humane and just opinion in some quarters in this country. The practice of working for confessions has been invariably condemned by the local governments in India, and the standing orders issued for the guidance of the police contain stringent injunctions against resorting to it. It must be borne in mind that the feeling about confession, or the conditions that surround the practice of getting confession, depend on Indian habits of mind—habits of mind perfectly common in Europe as late as, shall I say, the sixteenth century. Machiavelli himself was subjected to torture in order to extort some confession from him. It is not an Indian peculiarity; it is a matter of old history with us. My noble friend may rest assured that efforts are constantly and stringently being made to eradicate the ingrained tendency to get at convictions through confessions. One of the things the Indian Government have done, on the recommendation of the Police Commissioner, is to establish training schools for the police, and signs of improvement have already been observed. I believe that 85 per cent. of the men going to these posts are from the public training school. They have a fair educational qualification to start with, they get special training at the school, and they pass an examination imposing practical tests of fitness.

I would like the House to hear what the process really is. Under the Indian Evidence Act, no confession made to a police officer can be proved—proved, that is, in the sense of being admissible as evidence—as against a person accused of any offence. In order to make a confession admissible as evidence it must be recorded by a magistrate, and that magistrate must, when the accused comes before him, first direct the police to leave the premises and satisfy himself that there is no policeman to overawe the prisoner; and, secondly, he must question the accused as to whether he confesses of his own free will and must satisfy himself that that is the case. He must examine the body of the accused for marks of ill-treatment and record the result; he must ask the accused in detail how long and at what places he has been in the custody of the police, and, having done all this, he may then record the formal statement, "I believe that this confession was voluntarily made." Therefore it is not a case of its being summarily taken for granted that an accused man has made a confession.

My noble friend referred to two cases in Madras of abuse by the police of their power and authority, and two in Bengal. It will be sufficient, I think, if I deal only with the Madras cases. The number of cases quoted was rather astonishing in view of the breadth of the charges that have been made and. the enormous generalisations that have been inferred from one or two isolated cases, and my noble friend must have been sensible that in this matter he was resting on a rather weak foundation. If this abuse by the police is so extensive as to demand the censure of your Lordships' House and of the country, he would have produced a sheaf of cases. The first of the Madras cases was the Godavari case. A station house officer and two constables were charged with causing grievous hurt to extort confession, and, further, with wrongful confinement to extort confession, and the torture of three persons suspected of housebreaking, one of whom died from the effects of the injuries received. A sub-inspector, acting as inspector, was charged with abetting these offences. The Sessions Judge convicted the first three accused under sections dealing with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, and the fourth under the section dealing with abetment. He sentenced the station house officer to six years rigorous imprisonment, the two constables to three and a half years each, and the acting inspector to three years. The decision of the magistrate was upheld by the High Court. The charge of murder was not sustained, as intention to cause death could not be proved. I submit that, whether in India or anywhere else, this is not a bad story. It is, of course, a bad story that the police should have used excessive force, but they were punished, and the punishment, I submit, was adequate and sufficient.


I admitted the punishment. I do not wish to argue the case, but it is a bad case where several people are implicated in these proceedings.


It is certainly a bad case, but it is not a case which justifies the drawing of a great indictment against the whole police system of India. The other Madras case was the Jaypore case. Three constables were charged with the murder of a Domb, a member of a low caste, whom they had maltreated for evading the payment of hush money in connection with an irregular marriage in his house. The Sessions Judge, agreeing with the assessors, acquitted them of murder, but convicted them under Section 394 of causing hurt in committing robbery, and sentenced the first and second to ten and seven years transportation, and the third to two years rigorous imprisonment. On appeal the High Court set aside the convictions on the ground that the evidence was unsatisfactory, and observed that the accused had been properly acquitted of murder. They also said that their conduct in failing to report and to visit the spot, and in giving a false account of the cause of death gave rise to suspicion against them, and I suppose the Government of India will report to me the Depart- mental action taken. It is grievous to read of this brutish treatment; but, even if there were twenty such cases, I should still think that in a population of 230,000,000 and with 176,000 police and 530 superintendents and assistant superintendents, it was not a thing to justify a wholesale sweeping condemnation of the whole police.


I made none.


I should like to read the orders in the Central Provinces as to confession. "It is necessary to warn police officers," they run, "against the danger of unduly relying upon confessions or admissions made during the investigation of offences by persons suspected of their commission and of being thereby led to place before the Courts evidence which is of little value apart from the confession. Experience shows that a person guilty of a serious crime rarely gives an account of his acts and motives in accurate detail. Even while admitting the commission of the crime, he will resort to various devices whereby he hopes to lessen his criminality in the eyes of the Court," and so forth. Then as to the Punjab:—"So far as may be possible"—this is on the point of detention and remand—"the investigation of a cognizable offence shall be completed within twenty-four hours of the arrest of the accused person. When, in the investigation of a cognizable offence, it is necessary to arrest the accused person at an early stage of such investigation, and it is apparent that such investigation cannot be completed within twenty-four hours of such arrest and it is not considered advisable to release the accused on bail, the police officer may apply to the nearest magistrate for a special order for further detention" on any one of the grounds which are set forth. What can a Government do more than fence round this practice of possible detention and moderately extended remand with restrictions of the kind described in these orders?

My noble friend brought forward the question of increased pay. The recommendations of the Commission are well known. As much has been done as could be done in the time since the Report was made, and every effort has been made, I am assured, and I believe—for I have carefully watched this matter at the India Office—every effort has been made to raise the education and statusas well as the pay of sub-inspectors. The pay used to be from 30 rupees to 70 rupees a month, and is now from 50 rupees to 100 rupees; therefore we have gone a few inches, at any rate, on the journey my noble friend would wish taken.

Language is sometimes used implying that the Government of India do not condemn this abuse of force, do not condemn torture and pressure, and the Government of India naturally disdain almost to reply to so monstrous a charge. In some quarters the demand is made for the issue of a declaration that they condemn and do not condone the practice, but everybody in the whole Service down to the humblest man knows perfectly well that the Government of India abhor the practice and do their best by punishment when there are good grounds to eradicate the practice. I am sure my noble friend would not for a moment say that the Government of India are capable of shall I say, winking at a general doctrine that torture might be resorted to when a man was given into the custody of the police.


I never suggested it.


They are incapable of coming near deserving such an accusation or insinuation. I would quote the language used by a very able, right-minded, thoroughly-experienced Anglo-Indian public servant who has been thirty years in India— The improvement in the police, in capacity, in intelligence, in sense of duty, could not be believed to have been possible when I remember what India was when I first arrived there. And he goes on to say— In all respects the improvements in the Department of Criminal Investigation exceed anything that could have been hoped for. I have no desire to whitewash any malpractices—it is no business of mine to vindicate the police; but it is the business of the Secretary of State to place the position and the attempts for good of the Government of India in the best light in which those attempts are capable of being placed, and in this case I am well convinced that the attempts are sincere, are indefatigable, and are on the way to being successful.