Police Not Punish
The nation was shocked when a young veterinarian was gang raped and murdered on the outskirts of Hyderabad city last month. Police authorities swung into action and nabbed four youngsters who admitted to have committed the ghastly act. Even as the public let go a sigh of relief and was in the process of applauding the police forces for the prompt action came the news that the four “culprits” were killed in an “encounter”. As per information revealed by police, the accused were being taken to the spot where rape and murder had taken place as part of the investigation when they tried to escape, resulting in the shootout and deaths.
The news of “encounter deaths” of the four accused was greeted with mixed reactions. While a section of the population chose to congratulate the policemen for doing away with the rapists in a summary fashion, without waiting for following the due process of law, a small minority expressed their distress at this development. Government duly appointed a Commission headed by a retired judge to inquire into the circumstances under which enforcers of law opened fire and the factual position of the version given to the public. However, what was more disturbing was the reactions in the social media from educated persons, who are aware about the laws of the land and the rights and responsibilities of the citizens, congratulating police for “doing away with” these young men without any trial. This brings forth the question as to what prompts such persons to justify summary actions by law enforcing authorities?
In the first place, it should be emphasised that the wrong doers should be brought before justice and awarded the maximum punishment that the laws stipulate. However, can a person be adjudged guilty without a proper trial before a court of law? Should he not be given a chance to prove his innocence? Was there a chance that one or more of the four persons who were apprehended by the police and accused of the crime could be innocent? Are there not dangers inherent in the system of summary punishment awarded by police or other authorities? These are the uncomfortable questions that have come to the fore in the wake of this incident.
The main reason for the response of the general public in supporting police action is the delay that bogs down the judicial system in our country. Recently one read a post in social media that Veerappan, a dreaded brigand, died 14 years ago and Rajkumar, the noted Kannada actor, passed away 12 years back. But the verdict on the case involving kidnapping of Rajkumar by Veerappan has not yet been pronounced! And this is the order of the trial court, which can be appealed against in higher fora involving High Court and Supreme Court, before the decision acquires finality. Thus, it can be seen that it would take at least two decades, if not more, for a case to move through the wheels of criminal justice system before an accused person would be finally adjudged as guilty or not.
It also merits mention that this is not always the case where special courts are set up to ensure a speedy trial as happened in the “Nirbhaya” case in Delhi. However, this can be done only in exceptional cases that have attracted considerable attention of the public, where a speedy trial and quick dispensation of justice is required. The vast majority of cases are taken up for trial only many years after the complaints are filed, after which also there exists scope for further delays.
The next aspect of that affects the efficiency of the system are the cumbersome procedures that have bound it in a vice like grip. Indian Penal Code, the comprehensive code of criminal law that encompasses all offences, was enacted in 1860, while Criminal Procedure Code, which details the procedures to be followed, was legislated in 1974. There is an urgent need for coming up with new laws replacing these two statutes to bring the criminal justice in line with the latest developments in investigation of crimes, collection of evidence and determination of guilt and awarding of punishment.
The system of recording evidence by courts give opportunities for witness to change sides and turn “hostile”. As trials invariably come up after a long gap, there also exist the possibility of witnesses being influenced during this interregnum to give evidence which is either in favour of accused or at the least of an equivocal nature. The acquittal of persons accused of murdering Jessica, a model who was working as barmaid, in cold blood and in presence of many persons, created an uproar, which prompted quick action by the government in filing an appeal, where this order was reversed. However, Govindachamy, accused of raping and murdering Soumya, managed to get the benefit of doubt from appellate court, who converted the death sentence to imprisonment for seven years. Such instances wherein persons, who are identified in public mind as wrong doers, win reprieve from courts serve to bring down the confidence of public in the judicial system.
Another area of concern is the tendency of higher courts to intervene in matters leading to delay. An example that readily comes to mind is the overbridge constructed at Palarivattom on which no vehicle has passed since May 2019 on account of it being found to be not strong enough. However, the decision of government to demolish the bridge and build a new one could not be implemented on account of intervention of courts. The legal nuances involved in this matter would not be appreciated by the common man who is put to immense difficulty on account of traffic snarls and holdups on this score and views this as yet another instance of the system letting him down badly.
Finally, all citizens must realise and appreciate that court and judicial system exists for the people of the country. The judges decide cases while the lawyers are the medium through which public can access the courts, while the final beneficiary should be the people. Unfortunately, the system has become distorted with the result that people have started losing their faith in its efficacy, a situation that has ominous portents.
Hence there is a crying need for amending the laws and statutes to ensure faster trials by courts and to bring the procedures in line with the modern legal system in developed countries. The executive on their part should assure expeditious and time bound investigations. There should be specified time limits for concluding trials and giving decisions and the present system of granting numerous adjournments should be done away with. The higher courts, while monitoring the functioning of lower judiciary, should contribute by guaranteeing minimum interventions through stays, injunctions etc.
Only if all the three wings of governance function in tandem towards the common goal of improving the legal system through fast and effective delivery of justice would the public regain faith and trust in it and stop cheering summary actions like the one at Hyderabad. It does not behove a civilised society to applaud retributive actions, even if they are done by men in uniform.