HC issues series of directions to police on opening history sheet

Observes vagueness in choice of expressions that police employ

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has issued a set of directions to the police personnel to follow while exercising their power to open a history sheet against someone. The court observed that there were certain vagueness and internal inconsistencies in the choice of expressions the Police Standing Order employs.

Disposing of a series of petitions that sought a direction to remove petitioners’ names from the history sheet, Justice N. Seshasayee observed that these vagueness and internal inconsistencies posed a constant threat to the fundamental rights that ultimately led to unnecessary and avoidable litigations.

Passing a series of directions for the police to follow, the court observed that there was a need to harmonise and iron out the ambiguities till legislative alternatives were found. The police personnel may have to be provided with clear parameters for exercising their power to history-sheet, the court said.

When the police propose to history-sheet a person, he should have been either notified as a habitual offender under the Tamil Nadu Habitual Offenders Act,1948, or should have been one against whom an order has been made under Section 110 of Cr.P.C.

In all cases a person can be history-sheeted only for two years as provided in PSO 748(1). Retaining a history-sheeter beyond that period is an exception and it must have an objective basis. History-sheet cannot be retained merely on the ground that the investigation agency had not filed any final report or where the case is pending trial beyond two years time as provided.

Further, the court said that there cannot be any retention under PSO 748 (2), unless a fresh case is registered (which may be either under investigation or pending) subsequent to the case/cases which necessitated the opening of the history-sheet or a history-sheeter is notified as a habitual offender.

This should be only for one year as in PSO 748(2). Every subsequent decision to extend or retain a history-sheeter should be made only on the same basis as indicated. Where no subsequent case is registered, a former convict should not be treated as a suspect, the court said.

In reckoning the number of cases for treating a person as addicted to or habitually given to commit a crime, cases where the investigation agency has dropped a case or where the FIR was closed under Section 468 of Cr.P.C by the Court or where a history-sheeter has been discharged or acquitted by a competent Court and/or quashed by High Court or by the Supreme Court, shall not be included. However, those cases where the investigation or trial is pending, they can be reckoned. This direction has no application to National Registry maintained under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2018, the court said.

Where cases are registered in connection with a citizen participating in any peaceful protests, agitations, or demonstrations, history-sheet should not be opened unless an order is passed by the Executive Magistrate under Section 107 or 110 of Cr.P.C. This is not available to non-citizens. It is clarified that if any other offence alleging violence or damage of property or threat to personal safety or life of other citizens is also involved, the directions given herein is not applicable, the court said.

The court directed the Director General of Police to constitute district-level committees through appropriate police officials to examine all the cases of history-sheeting on the basis of parameters provided within a period of one year. Necessary steps should be taken to automate the process of history-sheeting to make the whole exercise self-driven. The DGP shall submit a half yearly progress/compliance report in this regard. The DGP shall issue a circular of the directions to all the SHO and the police officials who are empowered to supervise/inspect the functioning and sensitise the officials, the court said.

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