The number of habeas corpus petitions filed before the Kerala High Court is increasing in the last couple of years as reports of missing persons are rife of late. While 459 pleas were filed in 2016, the figure rose to 496 in 2017. This year, 271 petitions have reached the high court till the end of June.
Habeas corpus is a writ petition filed only before the Supreme Court and High Court after a person goes missing or is suspected to have been wilfully detained by somebody. Subsequently, the court issues the writ, i.e., directions or orders with regard to the necessary action to be taken.
The petition was recently in the news in connection with the disappearance of college girl Jesna Maria James. A habeas corpus was also filed after an overseas woman tourist went missing near Kovalam in March.
The police have the responsibility to conduct a search for the missing person if the court issues a directive in that regard. The Supreme Court had ruled in the Lalithakumari vs Government of Uttar Pradesh case (2014) that an FIR should be registered immediately and investigation started. The defendant in the case will be the police and any lapse in the investigation would invite action against the officials. If the police fail to trace the missing person, the reason should be submitted before the court.