CBI's Look Out Circular against former Amnesty India chief

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CBI's Look Out Circular against former Amnesty India chief

A district court in Delhi recently stayed a magistrate’s order directing the CBI to withdraw its Look Out Circular (LOC) against former Amnesty International India chief Aakar Patel, and asked him not to leave the country without the permission of the court.

What is a Look Out Circular?

  • An LOC is issued to prevent a person from leaving the country.
  • It is issued by various agencies and government bodies to the Bureau of Immigration (BoI) in a prescribed format with details of the person who it intends to prevent from going abroad. The BoI maintains a register of such circulars which is informally called the exit control list.

Who can issue such a circular against a citizen of India?

  • According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, LOCs are initiated by a large number of authorised officers

Who can initiative LOC

  • An Officer not below the rank
  • Deputy Secretary to the Government of India;
  • Joint Secretary in the State Government;
  • District Magistrate;
  • Superintendent of Police;
  • Designated officers of various law-enforcing and security agencies;
  • Designated officer of Interpol;
  • Additional Director in SFIO, Ministry of Corporate Affairs;
  • Chairman /Managing Director/chief Executive of any Public Sector Bank;
  • or as per directions of any criminal court in India.

LOCs can be issued by

  • CBI,
  • National Investigation Agency (NIA),
  • Enforcement Directorate,
  • Narcotics Control Bureau,
  • Directorate of Revenue Intelligence,
  • Central Board of Direct Taxes,
  • Central Board of Excise and Customs;
  • The Intelligence Bureau; and Research & Analysis Wing.

Under what circumstances is one issued?

  • The issuing agency is supposed to provide reasons for opening an LOC in the prescribed proforma “without which the subject of an LOC will not be arrested/detained”.
  • The LOC subject cannot be detained/ arrested or prevented from leaving the country. The originating agency can only request that they be informed about the arrival / departure of the subject in such cases.”
  • where the accused was deliberately evading arrest or not appearing in the trial court despite NBWs and other coercive measures and there was likelihood of the accused leaving the country to evade trial/arrest.”
  • The Home Ministry’s office memorandum in 2010 added another category of “exceptional circumstances”, where an LOC can be issued without complete parameters and /or case details against “terrorists, anti national elements, etc in larger national interest”.

What law governs the issuance of an LOC?

  • There is no specific law. An LOC is issued based on guidelines set by the Home Ministry through letters and office memorandum issued in 1979, 2000 and 2010.
  • In several court cases, the alleged misuse of the power to issue an LOC has been argued and it has been said that the inappropriate exercise of the power is due to absence of a law governing it.

Does the subject have the right to be informed about the reasons for the LOC?

  • There is no guideline regarding this mentioned in any government order.
  • While the LOC-issuing authority has to record the reasons in the prescribed proforma to be given to the BoI, there is no specific provision for informing the subject. Since there is no law governing issuance of LOC, this is a grey area.

Does an LOC mean you can be arrested?

  • The aim of LoC is merely to prevent a person from leaving the country.
  • Once that is prevented, the BoI informs the concerned agency, which may or may not arrest the person.

When can a court set aside an LOC?

  • Courts can quash an LOC if it has not been issued in the prescribed format, or by the authorised agency or officer.
  • It can also set aside an LOC if it feels the grounds for issuance of the LOC are not fulfilled.
  • This basically means if the court is of the opinion that despite a criminal case against the subject, he or she is not a flight risk and has been cooperating with the investigating agency, it might quash the LOC.