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BASL slams police over custodial deaths

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Deaths in police custody and torture continued despite Supreme Court interventions, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has alleged.

Demanding tangible measures to address the issues, the BASL has issued the following statement: “We are deeply concerned over a rise in custodial deaths, and criminal activity, in many parts of the country, in recent times. One of the worst crimes in a civilised society under the Rule of Law is custodial deaths.

Our legal system provides for investigation, inquiry, trial and punishment by proper authorities which is the base of democracy and the Rule of Law, and the credibility and transparency of such process must be diligently and fiercely preserved.

In terms of Article 13 (4) of the Constitution, no person shall be punished with death or imprisonment, except by order of a competent court. Hence, even a convicted criminal has a right to his life. Our Superior Courts repeatedly held that the extra-judicial killing of a suspect in police custody violated the right to life, despite the absence of an explicit right to life in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

In view of repeated violations of fundamental rights of persons in custody causing death, the Supreme Court, on 3rd February, 2023, directed the Inspector General of Police to formulate, issue and implement, guidelines to the police, elaborating the steps that should be taken by each officer to avoid ‘encounter deaths’ in the future.

In spite of such directions given by the Supreme Court, the BASL observes that custodial deaths and torture continues at an alarming rate. The BASL insists that the duty of the State is not only to safeguard the rights of citizens, but also to compensate the victims and punish the violators of law.

Thus, we are of the view that the Government, together with other stakeholders, should impose stricter laws and punishments on errant police officers for misuse of their power and not fulfilling their duties, and draft enforceable guidelines, to prevent the recurrence of custodial deaths. Further, law enforcement authorities should take immediate steps to prevent criminal activity in order to protect our citizens.”

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