Explained: When, and to what extent, is the use of force by police legal?

News:Recently,the police action in Jamia Millia Islamia has raised questions on what the Constitution and laws of India say on the right of police to intervene in protests and agitations.


What does the Constitution says?

  • The right to protest peacefully is guaranteed by the Constitution of India. Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b) give to all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression, and to assemble peaceably and without arms.
  • However, Articles 19(2) and 19(3) also says that the right to freedom of speech is subject to reasonable restrictions.
  • The reasonable restrictions are (a)sovereignty and integrity of India (b)security of the State (c)friendly relations with foreign States (d)public order (e)decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court and (f)defamation or incitement to an offence.

Supreme Court Judgement:

  • In ‘Karam Singh vs Hardayal Singh And Ors’ the High Court of Punjab and Haryana underlined in its judgment in 1979, that before any force can be used three prerequisites are to be satisfied.
  • The three conditions are (a)It should be an unlawful assembly with the object of committing violence or an assembly of five or more persons likely to cause a disturbance of the public peace (b)Such assembly is ordered to be dispersed and (c)In spite of such orders to disperse, such assembly does not disperse.

Legal provisions:

  • The legal provisions and avenue available to police for handling agitations, protests, and unlawful assemblies are covered by the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC),1973, the Indian Penal Code (IPC),1860, and The Police Act,1861.
  • The CrPC’s Sections 129-132 deal with Dispersal of assembly by use of civil force use of the armed forces in situations of civil unrest and protection against prosecution for acts done under these sections.
  • The IPC’s Sections 141-158 deal with unlawful assembly, and the responsibilities, liabilities, and punishments related to this offence.

What does United Nations says?

  • The ‘Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials’ adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in Havana, 1990 talks about the use of force by Police.
  • It says that law enforcement officials in carrying out their duty, shall as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.
  • Further,it also says that whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall exercise restraint.