13 NOVEMBER 1909, Page 15


[To THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR."] SIR,—The questions repeatedly addressed during the past Session to the Under-Secretary of State for India regarding allege.] misconduct on the part of Indian Police officers nearly all imply that suspected persons who have made confessions have done so under the influence of ill-usage, or even actual torture. It is in India far more difficult to elicit the real facts of a case than home-staying Englishmen can imagine, and the most circumstantial stories often fail to stand the teat of cross-examination or investigation in the East. Actual and deliberate torture is probably rare in India, though, it must be confessed, not unknown; but the fear of torture, accompanied by mild ill-treatment or deprivation of sleep, water, or food, is probably not uncommon, and amply sufficient to induce its not very sturdy people to confess freely to the most heinous crimes.

As the student of the Oriental mind is well aware, the Eastern is often the slave of one idea, and the Indian police- man is no exception. He is probably much less dishonest and far more stupid than he is painted, for his head only contains room for one idea at a time, and that idea is that a confession is the one proof which is to be depended on to convince his official superiors that he has caught the right man. His mind does not travel beyond that goal. Witnesses may turn round and disclaim incriminating statements or cunningly introduce discrepancies which will give their evidence an appearance of falsity, but a confession once obtained, even though it be repudiated, rarely fails to secure the detective police the credit with their own Department of having run down their quarry. To such a length is this acceptance of the confession as evidence of good detection occasionally pushed that a superintendent of police, an English officer in charge of a large district, has been known to complain that, though his men hardly ever failed to trace a criminal, and though every criminal confessed, he could never secure a conviction in the Courts!

The significance of this pathetic complaint will be readily grasped when the confession is regarded from the. point of view of the' trying Magistrate or Judge. The Indian Courts know that torture is occasionally used to extort false con- fessions. They therefore suspect every confession to be false, and, in practice, decline to convict on a confession unless it is strongly corroborated. In truth, many Courts probably regard a confession as some evidence that the charge is a false one. But the policeman has not to reckon with what the Court may think or do, he has to satisfy the officers of his own Department who are immediately above him. The result is that, when baffled in an inquiry and unable to find the real criminal, he produces a substitute who will confess on the distinct understanding that any " corroborative " evidence produced shall contradict every material allegation in his confession and ensure a galloping acquittal. It is, indeed, a debatable question whether an understanding is not sometimes arrived at with the real offender, if ,he can pay for it, whereby evidence is put forward to support a confession, perfectly true as to the essential fact of guilt, but carefully falsified as to every other detail, in order that the confession may be contradicted, and not corroborated, by the evidence. Frauds of this character upon Indian tribunals are not by any means unthinkable, and they will continue to be practicable as long as the police are permitted to make the confession the basis, instead of the apex, of a prosecution.

The unsoundness of this habitual reliance on confessions is no doubt being gradually appreciated in India, and a year or two ago Sir John Hewett's Government declared that in no respect was reform more urgently called for than in this. But Indian Administrations are singularly slow to move, and the education of the subordinate police is a tedious business which even improved pay and prospects will not effect in a generation. The truth is that the Indian Police suffers from being a Department, and its lower grades make most of their profits out of that fact. An Indian Department is a self-existing entity which is hardly controlled by public opinion and not at alkby the criticism of another Department, such as the Magis- tracy or the High Courts. India has no Minister of Justice, holding the portfolios of both Police and Justice; nor is such as amalgamation altogether to be desired, because it might end in unduly subordinating the Courts to the Executive. But the Indian Police Department ought to be placed under the control of a member of the Viceroy's Council who has bad wide judicial experience, and would be able gradually to impress on all ranks the truism that the force exists, not for the limited purpose of catching offenders, but also to secure their just punishment, and that this object will not be attained by building upon the shifting foundations of the confessional statements which an Oriental, innocent or guilty, is only too ready to make when he is in a tight place.—I am, Sir, &c.,