The threat to human rights and bodily integrity are the "highest in police stations", Chief Justice of India Justice N V Ramana said at a function on Sunday, expressing concern about custodial torture. Calling human rights and dignity "sacrosanct", he said, "custodial torture and other police atrocities are problems which still prevail in our society".
"In spite of constitutional declarations and guarantees, lack of effective legal representation at the police stations is a huge detriment to arrested/detained persons. The decisions taken in these early hours will later determine the ability of the accused to defend himself," he added in his address at an event organized by NALSA (National Legal Services Authority) at Delhi's Vigyan Bhawan.
Going by the recent reports, even the privileged are not spared third-degree treatment, the Chief Justice said. He, however, did not cite any particular case.
The way ahead to keep police excesses in check, he pointed out, was "dissemination of information about the constitutional right to legal aid and availability of free legal aid services".
"The installation of display boards and outdoor hoardings in every police station or prison is a step in this direction. However, NALSA must also actively carry out nationwide sensitization of Police Officers," the Chief Justice added at the launch of a legal services app.
India, Chief Justice Ramana said, has a long tradition of pro bono legal services to the accused that started on behalf of freedom fighters in the British period.
"If we want to remain as a society governed by the rule of law, it is imperative for us to bridge the gap of accessibility to justice between the highly privileged and the most vulnerable. For all times to come, we must remember that, the realities of socio-economic diversity which prevail in our nation, cannot ever be a reason for denial of rights," Chief Justice Ramana said.
"If, as an institution, the judiciary wants to garner the faith of the citizens, we have to make everyone feel assured that we exist for them. For the longest time, the vulnerable population has lived outside the system of justice," he added.