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Bombay High Court Asserts the Right to Sleep as a Basic Human Right, Directs ED to Regulate the Timing of Recording of Statements

Introduction

The case of Ram Kotumal Issrani v. Directorate of Enforcement[i] was brought before the Bombay High Court (‘BHC’). This criminal writ petition (‘WP’) was filed by Mr. Ram Kotumal Issrani (‘petitioner’) against the Directorate of Enforcement ('ED'). The petitioner challenged his arrest by the ED as being illegal and prayed for the quashing of all proceedings initiated and conducted by the ED in the case.

Facts

  • The petitioner was summoned for the fourth time by the ED under s. 50 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (‘PMLA’) and was asked to appear on 07.08.2023. He complied with the directions and appeared before the ED in Delhi on 07.08.2023 at 10:30 AM on that date.

  • However, he was formally arrested the following day, on 08.08.2023, and taken to Mumbai where he was presented before the Special PMLA Court in Mumbai on the same day at 5 PM.

  • Before the BHC, the instant WP challenged the legality of the petitioner’s arrest, arguing that he was not presented before the nearest Magistrate as contemplated under s. 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (‘CrPC’) and a. 22(2) of the Constitution of India, 1949 (‘Constitution’).

  • Further, it was argued that upon his appearance before the ED, the petitioner’s liberty was immediately curtailed, suggesting his arrest should be considered as having occurred at 10:30 AM on 07.08.2023, making the arrest illegal since he was not produced before the court within 24 hours (which expired on 08.08.2023 at 10:30 AM).

Decision of the Court

  • The BHC issued a detailed decision, meticulously analysing the timeline of events, particularly focusing on the precise time of the petitioner’s detention and formal arrest. It held that he cannot be said to have been arrested immediately upon his appearance at the ED office. Separately, the BHC also held that even if it is assumed that his arrest took place when he reached the ED office, travel time from Delhi to Mumbai would have to be excluded and upon doing so, it would be concluded that he was produced before the Court within 24 hours.

  • Regarding the argument that the petitioner was not produced before the ‘nearest Magistrate’ (i.e., in New Delhi), the BHC held that production before the nearest Magistrate would be required in cases where it is not possible to produce the accused person before the jurisdictional Court within 24 hours. In the present case, the BHC found, that this requirement does not apply. Thus, it held that the arrest was legal and that the petitioner was produced before the Court within the statutory time limitation.

  • Interestingly, in this Court’s decision the BHC observed, despite dismissing the WP, that the ED recorded the petitioner’s statement from 10:30 PM to 3:00 AM even though there was no tearing hurry for the ED to record such a statement post-midnight. He could have been summoned the next day or even later (the BHC noted that his statement had been recorded on three earlier occasions also). This Court reprimanded the ED by stating that the statement of any person should be recorded during earthly hours since it is yet to be determined whether the person is guilty of an offence under the money-laundering law.

  • The BHC held that the ‘right to sleep’ / ‘right to blink’ is a basic human requirement and not providing the same violates a person’s human rights. It affects a person’s health and may impair his mental faculties and cognitive skills. These basic human rights cannot be deprived beyond a reasonable time. Thus, statements must necessarily be recorded during earthly hours and not in the night when the person’s cognitive skills may be impaired. The BHC also held that the above holds true even if the person gives his voluntary consent to record the statement.

  • The BHC directed ED to issue a circular / directions regarding the timings, for recording of statements in line with the above findings of the Court. It has directed the ED to submit a report on compliance with this direction.

Our Analysis

The judicial analysis was grounded in a thorough examination of constitutional provisions, statutory frameworks, and judicial precedents related to arrest and detention. The BHC emphasized the distinction between the petitioner’s questioning under s. 50 of PMLA and his subsequent formal arrest.

What is noteworthy is the BHC’s significant concern over the human rights implications of the methodology used by the ED during a summoned person’s interrogation. It is regular practice at various investigating agencies to conduct statement recording at late night hours. This may be attributable to multiple interrogations being conducted simultaneously or to a sheer psychological tactic to interrogate the person. However, what is often overlooked and which this decision clearly notes is that any person’s cognitive skills are impaired due to lack of sleep. To add to this, interrogations in cases involving economic offences are conducted based on documentary evidence, transaction trails, and recollection of minute details about money flows – this is humanly impossible at unearthly hours.

Thus, this aspect of the judgment serves as a critical commentary on the need for law enforcement to adhere not only to the letter of the law but also to respect human rights inherent in legal processes. The directive to the ED to regulate the timing of interrogations and statement recordings underscores a move towards more humane enforcement practices.




End Note

[i] Crl. WP (St.) No. 15417 of 2023, order pronounced on 15.04.2024.




Authored by the Editorial Team, Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.

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