30 March 2016
Good Samaritan Law
On 30 March 2016, the Supreme Court of India converted the Good Samaritans guidelines into law using its special powers under Article 141. This deals with the legal protection to be accorded to ‘Good Samaritans’ who give assistance to road accident victims.
- According to studies, almost 1,50,000 people are killed in road accidents in India every year.
- Nearly 50% of these cases could be prevented if the victims were given basic care on time, according to the Law Commission of India.
- It is a common feature on Indian roads to see a huge crowd gathering around road accident victims, but rarely do anyone of the bystanders come forward and help the victims.
- People are averse to helping accident victims because of a fear of being victims themselves of police harassment or long-drawn legal procedures. They also fear being financially involved in the treatment of these victims.
- Bystanders play a huge role in saving lives and as per the WHO, unless bystanders feel empowered to act, or feel sure that they would not suffer untoward consequences, they would not volunteer to assist victims.
- In the year 2012, an NGO called the SaveLIFE Foundation filed a PIL in the Supreme Court pleading the court to have safeguards for Good Samaritans who help the injured.
- The NGO also launched a countrywide campaign spreading awareness about this pressing issue.
- At that time, the government opposed the petition citing that the procedures followed by the police were in fact as laid by the law and need not be changed.
- However in December that year, the SC formed a committee to investigate the matter.
- Meanwhile, a petition signed by about one lakh people were presented to the then Health Minister; and a private member’s bill was also raised in the Parliament.
- In January 2014, the committee submitted its report in which sweeping judicial reforms were recommended to protect the Good Samaritan.
- The central government had changed by this time and the new government, realising the deep public interest in the issue, filed an affidavit in the SC saying that the government supported the issue.
- The government then drafted a detailed policy for the protection of Good Samaritans and publicised it in May 2015.
- The highest court of the land then converted this policy into law affecting all states and union territories under Article 141 of the Indian Constitution.
- The new law encourages people to come forward and help accident victims or any such person on the road who is incapacitated to help themselves in times of distress like illness, etc.
- As per the new policy, the hospital to which the accident victims are brought by the Good Samaritans should not detain these people. They should also not be made to pay for the admission or registration at the hospital.
- The first responder who calls up and informs the police about the accident need not reveal his/her personal details.
- The choice of becoming a witness solely lies with the Good Samaritan. And, if he/she does opt to become a witness, then the time and place of questioning by the police will be decided by the Good Samaritan. Video conferencing could also be used for examination. The witness shall be examined only on a single occasion. Examination would be through:
- Section 284 Cr PC (Criminal Procedure Code): Permits the examination of a witness through a commission
- Section 296 Cr PC: Permits evidence to be given by an affidavit
- The Good Samaritan shall not incur any civil or criminal liability.
- If doctors refuse to treat victims brought in, it would be considered a case of ‘Professional Misconduct’ and disciplinary action would be taken against them.
- Last year Karnataka became the first Indian state to pass the Good Samaritan law in the form of the Karnataka Good Samaritan and Medical Professional (Protection and Regulation During Emergency Situations) Act.
See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.