The 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.

Article 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.

The 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 this aim.

Thus, 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.

The 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.

Article 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.

These 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.

Article 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.

Guidelines 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.

Finally, 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.

The 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.

Recently, (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)."

The 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.

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