No handcuffs for prisoners in India

Handcuffs on prisoners, is inhuman.

No Handcuffing of prisoners without special reasons:

“Handcuffing is prima facie inhuman and, therefore, unreasonable, is over-harsh and at the first flush, arbitrary. Absent fair procedure and objective monitoring, to inflict `irons’ is to resort to zoological strategies repugnant to Art. 21. Thus, we must critically examine the justification offered by the State for this mode of restraint. Surely, the competing claims of securing the prisoner from fleeing and protecting his personality from barbarity have to be harmonized. To prevent the escape of an under trial is in public interest, reasonable, just and cannot, by itself, be castigated. But to bind a man hand-and- foot fetter his limbs with hoops of steel, shuffle him along in the streets and stand him for hours in the courts is to torture him, defile his dignity, vulgarise society and foul the soul of our constitutional culture.”

Handcuffs in extreme circumstances:

In the same case at pages 875-876 it was held as under:

“Even in cases where, in extreme circumstances, handcuffs have to be put on the prisoner, the escorting authority must record contemporaneously the reasons for doing so. Otherwise, under Art. 3 the procedure will be unfair and ban in law. Nor will mere recording the reasons do, as that can be mechanical process mindlessly made. The escorting officer, whenever he handcuffs “a prisoner produced in court, must show the reasons so recorded to the Presiding Judge and get his approval. Otherwise, there is no control over possible arbitrariness in applying handcuffs and fetters. The minions of the police establishment must make good their security recipes by getting judicial approval. And, once the court directs that handcuffs shall be off no escorting authority can overrule judicial directions. This is implicit in Art. 21 which insists upon fairness, reasonableness and justice in the very procedure which authorises stringent deprivation of life and liberty.”

[Source: Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration, 1980(3) SCR 855, at page 872.]


The same principles are reiterated again: 

“Coming to the case on hand, we are satisfied that the petitions are educated persons and selflessly devoting their service to the public cause. They are not the persons who have got tendency to escape from the jail custody. In fact petitions 1 and 2 even refused to come out on bail, but chose to continue in prison for a public cause. The offence for which they were tried and convicted under Section 186 of Indian Penal Code is only a bailable offence. Even assuming that they obstructed public servants in discharge of their public functions during `dharna’ or raise slogan inside or outside the court, that would not be sufficient cause to handcuff them. Further, there was no reason for handcuffing them while taking them to court from jail on April 22, 1989. Once judicial order by a competent court, that person comes within the judicial custody of the court. Therefore the taking of a person from a prison to the court or back from court to the person by the escort party is only under the judicial orders of the court. Therefore, even if extreme circumstances necessitate the escort party to bind the prisons in fetters, the escort party should record the reasons for doing so in writing and approve or disapprove the action of the escort party and issue necessary directions. It is most painful to note that the petitioners 1 and 2 who staged a `dharna’ for public cause and voluntarily submitted themselves for arrest and who had no tendency to escape had been subjected to humiliation by being handcuffed which act of the escort party in utter violation of the principle underlying Article 21 of the Constitution of India. We strongly condemn this kind of conduct of the escort party arbitrarily and unreasonably humiliating the citizens of the country with obvious motive of pleasing `someone”.

[Source: Sunil Gupta Vs. State of M.P., 1990 3 SCC 119]

It was reiterated again:

These two pronouncements by Supreme Court of India constitute the law of the land, The plea of ignorance of the law on is stated only to be rejected. What is worse in this case is the Magistrate behaving in this way. We are of the view that magistracy requires to be sensitised to the values of human dignity and to the restraint on power. When it allows inhuman conduct on the part of the police, it exhibits both the indifference and insensitiveness to human dignity and constitutional rights of the citizens. There could be no worse lapse on the part of the judiciary which is the sentinel of these great liberties. As Joseph Addison said:

“Better to die ten thousand deaths than wound my honor.”

[Source: Khedat Mazdoor Chetna Sangath v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1995 SC 31: 1994(6) SCC 260: 1994(6) JT 60: 1994(4) SCALE 40: 1995 CrLJ 508: 1994 SCC(Cr) 1643.]

Ultimately about handcuffs it was mandatorily directed:

  • We declare, direct and lay down as a rule that handcuffs or other fetter shall not be forced on a prisoner – convicted or under trial – while lodged in a jail anywhere in the country or while transporting or in transit from one jail to another or from jail to court and back. The police and the jail authorities, on their own, shall have no authority to direct the handcuffing of any inmate of a jail in the country or during transport from one jail to another or from jail to court and back.
  • Where the police or the jail authorities have well-grounded basis for drawing a strong inference that a particular prisoner is likely to jump jail or break out of the custody then the said prisoner be produced before the Magistrate concerned and a prayer for permission to handcuff the prisoner be made before the said Magistrate. Save in rare cases of concrete proof regarding proneness of the prisoner to violence, his tendency to escape, he being so dangerous/desperate and the finding no other practical way of forbidding escape is available, the Magistrate may grant permission to handcuff the prisoner.
  • In all the cases where a person arrested by police, is produced before the Magistrate and remand – judicial or non-judicial – is given by the Magistrate the person concerned shall not handcuffed unless special orders in that respect are obtained from the Magistrate at the time of the grant of the remand.
  • When the police arrests a person in execution of a warrant of arrest obtained from a Magistrate, the person so arrested shall not be handcuffed unless the police has also obtained orders from the Magistrate for the handcuffing of the person to be so arrested.
  • Where a person is arrested by the police without warrant the police officer concerned may if he is satisfied, on the basis of the guidelines given by us in para above, that it is necessary to handcuff such a person, he may do so till the time he is taken to the police station and thereafter his production before the Magistrate.

[Source: Citizen for Democracy v. State of Assam, AIR 1996 SC 2193: 1995(3) SCR 943: 1995(3) SCC 743: 1995(4) JT 475: 1995(3) SCALE 98: 1995(2) SCJ 308: 1996 CrLJ 3247. [per Kuldip Singh, J. & N. Venkatachala, J.]