constitutional mandate of the NPC
While there is ongoing public scrutiny regarding the role of the
National Police Commission (NPC) in the scheme of police promotions,
it is time that attention is focussed on another critical aspect
of the powers of the NPC.
155(G)(2) of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution directs the
NPC in mandatory language to establish procedures to entertain and
investigate public complaints and complaints of any aggrieved person
made against a police officer or the police service. The NPC is
thereafter directed to provide redress in accordance with the provisions
of any law enacted by Parliament for such purposes.
rationale for this is obvious. We see severe deterioration of discipline,
inadequate training and common prevalence of practices of torture
by police officers. Our confidence in an independent police service
has deteriorated to an extent that threatens the very foundations
of law and order in Sri Lanka. The 17th Amendment, through the establishment
of the NPC, was meant to restore some measure of sanity to the functioning
of the police service. So far, it has singularly failed to achieve
we have the failure of the NPC to establish complaint procedures
under Article 155(G) (2) despite a specific calling in this regard
by the UN-HRC in Geneva last year during consideration of Sri Lanka's
third and fourth periodic reports under the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights.
NPC has explained that it lacks resources to undertake a more ambitious
fulfilling of its mandate and that it is doing whatever is possible,
including the appointing of district co-ordinators to carry out
inquiry into complaints. While this plaint should be given ear,
it is not sufficient cover behind which the NPC can seek refuge
regarding the non-fulfilling of its constitutional duties.
155(G)(2) is very clear in its import. It does not merely state
that public or individual complaints may be inquired into. If so,
then the NPC may be justified in doing what it is doing now; that
is appointing district co-ordinators to look into complaints. However,
what it requires is not ad hoc consideration of complaints where
the complainant is left to the mercy of an individual NPC officer
but the mandatory establishing of meticulous procedures regarding
the manner of lodging the complaint, the persons who can complain,
the way it is recorded and archived and the way in which it is inquired
into and investigated.
procedures would hold accountable not only the police officer concerned
but also officers of the NPC so that both act in strict compliance
with their constitutional and statutory duties. This again, carries
its own importance where officers of monitoring bodies, including
at one time, the National Human Rights Commission, stood accused
of colluding with the very perpetrators of terror in this country.
Acts of collusion included settling with victims of the most gruesome
torture for small sums of money and in extreme cases, getting together
with the police to hush up the incidents.
155(G)(2) allows inquiry into public complaints, as well as complaints
of an aggrieved person in respect of an individual officer or the
service in general. Thus, a person or groups of persons can appeal
to the NPC, rather than only the victim. The death/torture and/or
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and/or injury to a member
of the public in police care / custody are obvious examples where
such interventions could be made. The NPC should enumerate and publicise
a non-exhaustive list of such instances. Indeed, similar procedures
in other countries require the OIC and his superior officers to
automatically categorise grave incidents to the monitoring body,
whether a complaint is made or not.
should be put into place directing the registering, documenting
and archiving of complaints so that uniform procedures are followed
at all NPC district offices of which records should ideally be kept
at the head office. Thereafter, at the very least, there should
be quick responses to the complaints in terms of not only documentation
but also ensuring of medical attention and victim protection.
the NPC has a duty to recommend appropriate action in law against
police officers found culpable, in line with the vesting of the
disciplinary control and dismissal of police officers, (other than
the IGP) in it under Article 155(G)(1) of the 17th Amendment. At
present, this power is delegated to the IGP, which is highly unsatisfactory
on all accounts.
NPC should respond in a more serious manner to its constitutional
obligations under Article 155(G)(2). Towards this end, it should
initiate the process of drafting the procedures under that article,
call for representations from the public and make known the time
frame within which the procedures would be finalised. Failure to
do so would render the NPC liable to the same charge of ineptitude
leveled against the head of the police force in respect of his erring
officers. An inevitable consequence of such ineptitude is vigilante
justice. Instead, persons should be encouraged to channel their
outrage at the abuse that they suffer through institutions set up
under the law. It is only when these institutions fail that it becomes
impossible to contain public anger.
(in W.R. Sanjeewa (on behalf of Gerald Perera) vs OIC, Wattala Police
Station and Others, SCM 04/04/'03), the Supreme Court (per Justice
MDH Fernando) put the obligations of the Inspector General of Police
in issue in the following manner; " A prolonged failure to
give effective directions designed to prevent violations of Article
11 and to ensure the proper investigation of those which nevertheless
take place followed by disciplinary or criminal proceedings, may
well justify the inference of acquiescence and condonation ( if
not also of approval and authorisation)."
difference between the inaction of the IGP and the non-action of
a constitutionally constituted commission is, of course, profound.
The failure of the latter has far greater consequences with regard
to our collective will to put right, what is presently gravely wrong
in our institutions.