When arresting a person, police must always have “reasonable grounds” and cannot arrest someone on vague suspicion, the Supreme Court (SC) has ruled.
A three-judge bench of the SC comprising Justices Vijith Malalgoda, Shiran Gooneratne and Priyantha Fernando made the observation while delivering a judgment over a fundamental rights petition filed by two persons against their arrest by officers of the Marawila Police.
The petitioners, a driver and a cleaner of a lorry who were employees of a business engaged in wholesale export business, had filed the petition against the Headquarters Inspector (HQI) and a Sergeant of the Marawila Police over their arrest on September 16, 2016 while returning with 300 kilograms of mutton from a farm in Mihintale.
The petitioners had purchased the mutton the previous evening and were on their way to Negombo when they were stopped at Maha Wewa around 2.30am on September 16, which was a Poya day, by the police sergeant and some other officers. The police officers had asked them to show their permit for transporting meat. The petitioners had stated that, they have often been transporting meat and such permit was never required. They had then been placed under arrest.
The Deputy Solicitor General (DSG) who appeared for the two police officers submitted that there existed a reasonable suspicion that the animals had been slaughtered for sale on a Poya day.
Delivering the Court’s judgment with Justices Malalgoda and Gooneratne agreeing, Justice Priyantha Fernando has noted that while the Court concedes that a certain degree of discretion must necessarily be awarded to the police for the due performance of their duties and maintenance of public order. “However, allowing the police to arrest on suspicion where it is not reasonable would create room for violations of liberty to take place. Therefore, the discretion granted should not extend to the extent where it would amount to an arbitrary violation of liberty and should be strictly where there exist reasonable grounds for such arrest. Even in such a situation, the police must always be mindful that their assumptions may be incorrect.”
The petitioners’ arrest cannot be considered as falling within the purview of an ‘arrest based on reasonable suspicion’ simply due to the fact that there was no reasonable suspicion to arise,’ the Court has noted.
The respondents cannot rely on the fact that there was reasonable suspicion to suspect that the animals have been slaughtered for sale on a Poya day, as the petitioners were arrested at about 2.00 a.m. on the Poya day itself (16.09.2016) in Maha Weva, a considerable distance from the place of purchase which is Mihintale. The petitioners also had a certificate issued by the Mihintale Public Health Inspector (PHI) who had inspected the meat at the farm on September 15 evening.
The respondents arrested the petitioners without reasonable grounds on vague suspicion, intending to obtain evidence after the arrest, noted Justice Fernando.
The Court ordered the HQI of Marawila Police to pay a sum of Rs. 25,000 as compensation to each of the petitioners. The sergeant was ordered to pay Rs. 10,000 as compensation to each of the petitioners. The respondents were ordered to pay the above compensation out of their personal funds.
Lakdev Unamboowa appeared for the petitioners. DSG Maheshika Silva appeared for the respondents.
By Ranjith Padmasiri ST