Procedure for release of produce seized under Forest Act.

Power of seizure of produce under Forest Act, 1927:

Specific provisions have been made for the seizure and confiscation of forest produce and of tools, boats, vehicles and articles used in the commission of offences. Upon a seizure under Section 52(1), the officer effecting the seizure has to either produce the property before the Authorised Officer or to make a report of the seizure under sub-section (2) of Section 52. Upon being satisfied that a forest offence has been committed, the Authorised Officer is empowered, for reasons to be recorded, to confiscate the forest produce together with the tools, vehicles, boats and articles used in its commission. Before confiscating any property under sub-section (3), the Authorised Officer is required to send an intimation of the initiation of the proceedings for the confiscation of the property to the Magistrate having jurisdiction to try the offence. Where it is intended to immediately launch a criminal proceeding, a report of the seizure is made to the Magistrate having jurisdiction to try the offence.

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Custodial Violence and Death of Prisoners in India

 If civilization is not to perish in this country as it has perished in some others too well known to suffer mention, it is necessary to educate ourselves into accepting that, respect for the rights of individuals is the true bastion of democracy.
[Source: Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar,(1983) 4 SCC 141.]

Custodial Violence

Custodial violence has always been a matter of great concern for all civilized societies. Custodial violence could take the form of third degree methods to extract information – the method used need not result in any physical violence but could be in the form of psychological violence. Custodial violence could also include a violation of bodily integrity through sexual violence – it could be to satisfy the lust of a person in authority or for some other reason. The ‘Mathura Rape Case’ is one such incident that most are familiar with. Custodial violence could, sometimes, lead to the death of its victim who is in a terribly disadvantaged and vulnerable condition. All these forms of custodial violence make it abhorrent and invite disparagement from all sections of civilized society.

The recent directives of Supreme Court, in regard to prison conditions:

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Replevin: Recovery of personal property.

Action for recovery of personal property:

Facts for an action for replevin:

A corporation was engaged in the business of providing public transportation.  On December 13, 1990, one of its buses, while traveling north and approaching the Alabang northbound exit lane, swerved and crashed into the radio room of respondent Philippine National Construction Company (PNCC).

The incident was initially investigated by respondent PNCC’s toll way patrol, Sofronio Salvanera, and respondent Pedro Balubal (Balubal), then head of traffic control and security department of the South Luzon tollway. The bus was thereafter turned over to the Alabang Traffic Bureau for it to conduct its own investigation of the incident. Because of lack of adequate space, the bus was, on request of traffic investigator Pat. Cesar Lopera (Lopera), towed by the PNCC patrol to its compound where it was stored.

Subsequently, petitioner made several requests for PNCC to release the bus, but respondent Balubal denied the same, despite petitioner’s undertaking to repair the damaged radio room.  Respondent Balubal instead demanded the sum of P40,000.00, or a collateral with the same value, representing respondent PNCC’s estimate of the cost of reconstruction of the damaged radio room.  By petitioner’s estimate, however, the damage amounted to P10,000.00 only. Petitioner therefore filed a complaint for recovery of personal property (replevin) with damages against respondents PNCC and Balubal with the Regional Trial Court, which however dismissed the complaint.

Constitution of Philippines about right to property:

The Constitution grants the right against unreasonable seizures. Thus, Section 2, Article III provides:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

The seizure and impounding of petitioner’s bus, on Lopera’s request, were unquestionably violative of “the right to be let alone” by the authorities as guaranteed by the Constitution.

Decision of the Supreme Court allowing replevin:

This Court’s statement in Victory Liner [A.M. No. MTJ-00-1321, March 10, 2004, 425 SCRA 79.] on the lack of a “clear-cut policy” refers to the practice, rightly or wrongly, of trial court judges of issuing orders for the impounding of vehicles involved in accidents.  It has no application to the instant case which involves the seizure and distraint implemented by respondents upon a verbal order by Lopera without the benefit or color of legality afforded by a court process, writ or order.

That a year after the incident the driver of the bus was criminally charged for reckless imprudence resulting to damage to property in which the bus could possibly be held as evidence does not affect the outcome of this case.  As explained in Bagalihog v. Fernandez (G.R. No. 96356, June 27, 1991, 198 SCRA 614.):

It is true that property held as evidence in a criminal case cannot be replevied.  But the rule applies only where the property is lawfully held, that is, seized in accordance with the rule against warrantless searches and seizures or its accepted exceptions.  Property subject of litigation is not by that fact alone in custodia legis.  As the Court said in Tamisin v. Odejar, [108 Phil. 560 (1960)] “A thing is in custodia legis when it is shown that it has been and is subjected to the official custody of a judicial executive officer in pursuance of his execution of a legal writ.”  Only when property is lawfully taken by virtue of legal process is it considered in the custody of the law, and not otherwise.   (Emphasis and underscoring supplied; italics in the original; citations omitted)

Article 1962 of the Civil Code provides:

Art. 1962. A deposit is constituted from the moment a person receives a thing belonging to another, with the obligation of safely keeping it and of returning the same.  If the safekeeping of the thing delivered is not the principal purpose of the contract, there is not deposit but some other contract.

The police authorities,  through  Lopera,  having  turned  over the bus to respondents for safekeeping, a contract of deposit (term bailment is used in India) was perfected between them and respondents.

Petitioner’s prayer for recovery of possession of the bus is, in light of the foregoing discussion, thus in order.


Custody of court: Meaning of.

Scope and meaning of expression ‘court custody’:

Custodia legis: Meaning of:

In custodia legis is a Latin phrase which means “in the custody of the law”. This phrase is used in reference to property taken into the court’s custody during the pendency of a dispute or lis before the court of law. When a thing or property is in custodia legis, it cannot be distrained, transferred, sold or otherwise interfered with by a private person, without the prior permission of the court.

Court custody if means physical possession:

(Section 561 of Cr.P.C. 1898 and Section 451 of Cr.P.C. 1973)

A production before the Court does not mean physical custody or possession by the Court but includes even control exercised by the Court by passing an order regarding the custody of the articles. In the instant case when once the Magistrate, after having been informed that the articles were produced before the Court, directed the Sub-Inspector to keep them with him in safe custody, to get them verified and valued by a goldsmith, the articles were undoubtedly produced before the Court and became custodia legis.

[Source: Basava Kom Dyamogouda Patil v. State of Mysore, AIR 1977 SC 1749.]

Duty to handover property to rightful owner:

When the rightful claimant applied to the Court for possession of the buses the Court could Act simply shrug its shoulders and direct him to go to a Civil Court because both the Official Receivers disclaimed that they were in possession of the buses. In such a situation it was the duty of the Court to probe into the matter, make a full enquiry, and trace the whereabouts of the buses. If the buses could not be so traced or if the buses could not be delivered to the owner for any reason the duty of the Court work direct the culpable party to pay the value of the vehicles to the appellant. It is elementary that no one shall be prejudiced for the acts of the Court ‘actus curiae neminem gravabit‘ (the act of the Court harms no one).

[Source: Inter Continental, Agencies Pvt. Ltd. v. Amin Chand Khanna, AIR 1980 SC 951, 1980 CriLJ 689, (1980) 3 SCC 103.(Supreme Court of India)