Security forces can be tried in criminal courts too, says SC

FPA view of the Indian Supreme Court building is seen in New Delhi. Reuters

Stating that all security forces personnel accused of crimes against civilians will not necessarily be tried only by their courts, the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that criminal courts can also have jurisdiction in such cases.

Setting aside the orders of a lower court and high court in Jammu and Kashmir, a bench led by Justice C K Prasad Thursday ordered that the trial of two BSF personnel, accused of killing a Kashmiri teenager in February 2010, be sent back to a criminal court in Srinagar.

Stating that the BSF director general could move the criminal court within eight weeks if he considered that the trial should be conducted by the security force court, the bench said "the chief judicial magistrate shall consider the plea in accordance with law."

According to the prosecution's case, on February 5, 2010, BSF commandant R K Birdie and constable Lakhwinder Kumar had a verbal altercation with some local youth. On his officer's order, Kumar fired twice, killing Zahid Farooq Sheikh, 16. Birdie and Kumar were first arrested by the police, and a chargesheet was filed in April that year. But the BSF later moved an application asking the magistrate to stay the proceedings and to send the case to the security force court. In November 2010, the magistrate tranferred the case to the security force court. The victim's family and the state government challenged the order in the high court, but to no avail.

The SC held that it was not mandatory to try all such cases in the security force court, and the commanding officer must adduce sufficient reasons on why the case should not be sent to a criminal court. It said specific provisions under the armed forces laws could not summarily take away general laws.

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