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“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”

Chapter 5 of CrPC, 1973 where on one hand lays down the procedure of arrest on the other hand it also provides for the rights of the accused. There is a presumption of law that the accused is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt but when the same accused is handcuffed in front of the entire society he is already guilty in their eyes. So, anyone can imagine the shame and disgust one has to face during the trial when he was taken to the court by the police officer with handcuffs. Whatever will be the outcome of the trial he is already undergoing punishment when society already gave the verdict against him by seeing him in the shackles. So one of the landmark cases dealing with prisoner rights and most precisely manacling of prisoners is Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration.  


The petitioner was an under-trial accused. He was locked up in the Tihar jail and on the day of the trial, he was taken to the court by a police officer by putting restraints on him in the form of handcuffs. Moreover, before trial, he was supposed to stand for long hours in shackles. So he wrote a letter to one of the judges of the Supreme Court complaining about the same along with he also documented a habeas corpus writ in the Supreme Court on the matter of the legality of handcuffing. In that letter, he made a contention such acts amounted to inhumane treatments and were also against human dignity.


  1. Whether handcuffing a prisoner was legal or not?
  2. Whether the differentiation of prisoners into the ordinary and better classes under Punjab Police Rules, 1934 was valid or not?


The Court made a remark that “the cuffs are in all appearance brutal, outlandish, and from the beginning self-assertive without fair strategy and objective observing.” Having said so the same would amount to the violation of fundamental rights under Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the constitution. From the international scenario the act amounted to the violation of human rights under Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948:

  “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.”

    And under Article 10 of International Covenants on Civil And Political Rights:

             “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for    the inherent dignity of the human person.”

The observations of the Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India regarding the widest possible explanation of Article 21 were studied. The petitioner contended that being a better-class prisoner there was no need for the authority to put him under any kind of fetters. (Under the Police Act there were 2 kinds of prisoners: better class and ordinary based on their background.)


They contended that the handcuffs were put under the provisions of the Police Act and thereby the act was lawful. Since the petitioner was under trial he may try to flee and so such an act was inevitable. They contended that the petitioner even though qualified as a better-class prisoner still was a trickster and an interstate cheat so it was quite easy for him to escape by enticing a gullible constable. The validity of the act of handcuffing was drawn from the Punjab Police Rules, 1934 which laid down a differentiation between the better class and ordinary prisoners.


For issue 1 the Supreme Court issued the following guidelines:

  1. No prisoner shall be handcuffed or fettered as a routine matter just for the purpose of convenience.
  2. If the escape of a prisoner was prevented by increasing security then such must be preferred over handcuffing.
  3. Irrespective of the nature of the offense he was charged with, as long as the prisoner is not looking for any means to escape, he shall not be handcuffed.
  4. If the police wish to put handcuffs on the prisoner, the officer has to record the reasons in the case diary and the court will either approve or reject the same.
  5. The court will inquire from the prisoner whether he was handcuffed or not. If he answered in the affirmative then, the court must ascertain the reasons for the same. If the reasons were not justified in the diary then proper actions must be taken against the police officers.

Issue 2: the court held that the classification of prisoners based on their background into better class and ordinary is invalid.


An inference can be drawn from the above case that basic human rights must also be made available to the prisoners also. It was time and again recognized by the court in the following cases by reaffirming that unless backed with strong reasons prisoners are not to be put in shackles or any kind of unnecessary restraints in lines with the above case the Supreme Court gave the verdict in the following cases:

N.H. Hoskot v. the State of Maharashtra

The Court held that “if the prisoner breaks down due to mental torture, psychic pressure or physical infliction beyond the limit of lawful imprisonment the prison administration shall be liable for the excess of restraint imposed on him.”

Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration

The Court observed that “the handcuffs and irons bespeak a barbarity hostile to our goal of human dignity and social justice.

 Citizens for Democracy v. the State of Assam

The Court issued the guideline:

  1. If an arrest is made under warrant, then based on the magistrate’s orders the police can handcuff the person.
  2. If an arrest is made without a warrant, then a police officer after complying with the law can handcuff the person till he is presented before the magistrate from whom further approval for handcuffing can be taken.


So the above verdict made the handcuffing of prisoners as a routine practice an act violative of Articles 14, 19, and 21 and laid down the guidelines for putting fetters on the prisoner. As far as the international scenario is concerned Indian law is quite liberal in nature as in the USA handcuffing is a normal practice and is acceptable. Whereas in the UK there are well-enacted laws on this matter and in Australia, the position is somewhat similar to India as they have to record the reasons for handcuffing in the police service book. Moving forward from the precedent, in real life we see the prisoners are taken to court in shackles and even in handcuffs. To quote an example, Umar Khalid was taken to court in handcuffs for which no order was passed by the court. But the court has taken strict note of the matter in the case of Suprit Ishwar Divate v. State of Karnataka where a law student was compensated with Rs.2,00,000 for being handcuffed without reason by the police officers. Most of the police officers are not aware of the recent guidelines issued by the courts and still stick to the colonial mentality, but if the court started to take strict note of the matters like above then I am pretty sure all the police officers will follow the law by heart.

Author(s) Name: Daman preet kaur (Punjabi University, Patiala)