New Delhi, February 15: Wooden lathis and batons, commonly used by the police, can be “weapons” of death, the Supreme Court has said in a judgment.

The court refused to accept that lathis and batons were inoffensive and cannot be lethal enough to cause death.

A Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and Ajay Rastogi observed that a lot depends on the manner in which these weapons are used, The Hindu reported.

The judgment was based on an appeal filed by two police officers accused of mercilessly beating a man in custody with their lathis and batons 36 years ago in Odisha. The man died the same night.

The officers argued that the injuries from their lathis and batons could not have been fatal.

“It cannot be accepted that use of wooden lathi and baton are weapons which are not likely to cause death. Wooden lathi and baton are the weapons usually possessed by the police … It depends on the manner of use of the wooden lathi and baton,” Justice Bhushan wrote in the 29-page judgment recently.

The court refused to compound the offence of the police officers though the family of the victim was willing.

Justice Bhushan said the court was the final authority on whether or not to compound an offence. The court could take different view even if the victim’s family was agreeable to settle the case.

Refusing to compound the offence of the accused police officers, the court explained that both men mercilessly beat a man on the premises of their police station.

“The police of a State is the protector of law and order. The people look forward to the police to protect their life and property. People go to the police station with the hope that their person and property will be protected by the police, and injustice and offence committed on them shall be redressed and the guilty be punished,” the Supreme Court judgment said.

But it is a cause of general fear in society when the police turn against citizens who come to it for help, the court said.

“When the protector of people and society himself, instead of protecting the people, adopts brutality and inhumanly beat the person who comes to the police station, it is a matter of great public concern,” the judgment noted.

The court, however, reduced the sentence of the two policemen, now in their 70s, to six months and enhanced the compensation they have to pay to the victim’s family.

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