* ‘One cannot justify any case of police brutality merely on the basis of statistics’
How concerned must a person be for his personal safety and well-being when taken into custody by the Police in Mauritius? Even if the person is familiar about his rights guaranteed under the Constitution. With the current goings-on, how confident can he be that the Police Officer dealing with his case knows about those rights and will respect them? And what do the statistics say about the rest of the world? These are matters that have been hogging the headlines recently. Lex takes a look at them in the following Qs & As.
* Cases of inhuman and degrading treatment of suspects in custody and of detainees in general by police officers have long, rightly or wrongly, been believed to occur in the country from time to time. But since Saturday last a case involving recourse to a prohibited weapon known as taser has come to light and has been making the headlines this past week. How do you react to that?
There has been several cases of police brutality alleged in the past, but obviously the police have always denied them. And when such allegations are made in court, they are often brushed aside by magistrates and judges, thus creating the perception that the word of the police as against that of an accused is viewed as the gospel truth by the judiciary. This is the belief that unfortunately exists in Mauritius. On the other hand, the taser is an illegal weapon and nobody has the right to possess, and least of all to use it. How come the police officers involved had those tasers in their possession? How is it that there were resorting to a weapon that is patently illegal?
* According to press reports, this matter has been brought to the attention of the police authorities since 2020, but not much is known about how seriously it has been taken by them and whether an appropriate inquiry was conducted and the culprits, if any, were brought to justice. Isn’t such a situation conducive to the promotion of a culture of impunity?
Of course. There is the perception that Mauritius has over the past few years been breeding a culture of impunity in favour of all those who are close to the party in power. We all know that any culture of impunity encourages further illegal conduct and the absence of accountability at all levels – from the top down to so-called independent commissions or institutions.
* One would wish that inquiries into cases of alleged police brutality would be prompt and uncompromising. Does the system and the law allow for this to happen in a fair and independent manner?
For the answer to that, go to the facts and see for yourself how prompt the police have been in the past to conduct an inquiry when police officers were targeted for any illegal act. Can one imagine the lack of sensitivity that the police have shown to the shocking scenes of excessive use of force being meted out to a citizen of Mauritius as depicted in a USB which has obviously been in their possession since 2020?
As we all know the human rights of that citizen are protected by the Constitution! And yet so far as we know the only action taken was the transfer of one officer on an alleged case of bribery – which obviously does not address the illegality of the misuse of force on a citizen, excessive or otherwise. And the police spokesperson had the nerve to state to the media that an investigation takes time. What an affront to the rule of law? Had not the USB been made public, most probably no action would have been taken.
* Some may point the finger at the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for being unable to put an end to, or at least to curtail cases of abuse, but according to a statement made anonymously by an IPCD official to a local paper this week, 700 cases have been dealt with at the level of the Commission since 2016, 10 cases referred to the DPP and 15 to the Discipline Forces Service Commission, and four cases lodged. What’s your take on that?
The Police Complaints Commission can only act within the powers conferred on it by law. When the IPCC receives a complaint, it investigates it and has wide powers to call for witnesses and documents. A complaint must be made within one year of the occurrence of the case, but in special cases the Commission may investigate a complaint received after that delay.
The results of the investigation are then forwarded to the DPP for any action the latter deems fit to take. The Commission may also forward the results to the Disciplined Forces Service Commission, with a recommendation that disciplinary proceedings, or such other action as the Commission considers desirable, be taken against the police officer. It may also refer the matter to the Attorney General with a recommendation that compensation be paid to a complainant.
* But it’s also a fact that the IPCC can only act on the basis of evidence and irrefutable elements of proof that are put before it, isn’t that so?
Like any investigating body, it stands to reason and common sense that the Commission can only act on admissible evidence.
* In reply to a PQ in 2018, the Attorney General had said ‘The Police and Criminal Evidence Bill’ tabled in the National Assembly in 2014, and thereafter renamed ‘The Police and Criminal Justice Bill’, which would “better guarantee the rights of citizens under the Constitution” and sets out “in detail the parameters for police powers of search and seizure, powers of arrest and the conduct of interviews in places of detention” would be introduced… in a very near future once all the stakeholders are ready to implement it in practice”. Why is it that politicians seem to be dragging their feet with regard to this matter?
This Bill has been mentioned since many years now, and no government, present or past, has ever dared introduce it. Why is that so?
* Opposition MP Eshan Juman has written to the DPP to request him to start a judicial inquiry into the cases of police brutality as shown in the videos being circulated on social media. Does the law allow for the DPP to initiate such an inquiry?
The DPP can initiate a preliminary inquiry into any offence but in practice this power is used only in cases of murder and manslaughter. Since an offence of torture under section 78 of the Criminal Code may have been committed, the DPP is theoretically empowered to direct that a preliminary inquiry be conducted.
* As matters stand today, is there a case for some form of judicial supervision of the operations of the police force, and if so, what would be the implications of such supervision?
It is not supervision that is required. No inquiry into a serious case, especially one involving the police should be left to police investigators. The law must be amended to require the police to take a suspect to a magistrate within minutes of his arrest. The law must be amended to compel the State to appoint a lawyer for any suspect under arrest within minutes of his arrest. The law must be amended to compel the police not to question any suspect without a lawyer being present.
* At the end of the day, one could nevertheless argue that whilst reports of police brutality are commonplace across the world, the number of such cases locally may be relatively few as compared to the number of arrests and successful prosecution of offenders. What’s your take on that?
Any one case of police brutality is one too many. One cannot justify any case of police brutality merely on the basis of statistics.
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