The Supreme Court has held that a confession before a police officer under special laws, such as Tada, Pota or MCOCA, is a weak evidence against the person who gives it despite the fact that such a statement is an admissible proof before a trial court.
A bench comprising justice Markandeya Katju and justice Gyan Sudha Misra acquitted a man who was convicted by the Guwahati high court for being a member of the Ulfa. It said confessions in custody are extracted and, therefore, courts should be cautious in accepting them. The accused was convicted under Tada.
“Even Joan of Arm confessed to be a witch under torture,” the bench said, holding statements made before the police are often made under duress.
“Unfortunately, the police in our country are neighter trained in scientific investigation nor they are provided with the technical equipment for scientific investigation. Hence, to obtain a conviction they often rely on the easy short-cut of procuring a confession under torture,” the bench observed in its order.
The court also held that mere membership of a banned organisation does not make a person criminal unless he or she resorts or incites people and creates public disorder by violence.
This ruling assumes significance in the wake of life imprisonment imposed on noted civil liberties activist leader and pediatrician Binayak Sen by a sessions court in Chhattisgarh for acting as a courier to a jailed Maoist leader. The conviction has been challenged in the high court.
Referring to the Section 3 of Tada, that makes mere membership of a banned organisation illegal, the bench said it could not be read in literal sense, as it would violate Articles 19 (free speech) and 21 (liberty) of the Constitution. It rejected the doctrine of ‘guilt of association’ and said: “Mere membership of a banned organisation will not make a person criminal unless he resorts to violence.”