Can the Debilitating Criminal Justice System in India be Saved?

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The Criminal Justice in India is weakening due to its inadequacies, and pressing reforms are sought by the legal fraternity.
  • Staggering statistics in regard to the pendency of cases, under-trial prisoners further make the meagerness of the criminal justice system palpable.
  • Harassment of accused has become a trend, and Supreme Court’s intervention is the need of the hour.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM IN INDIA- AN OVERVIEW

A well-designed Criminal Justice System is an indispensable part of a country’s legal system. In the words of S Venugopal Rao (Criminal Justice. Problems and Perspectives, Delhi, Konark Publications 4 (1991), ”The criminal justice system is a system, which comprises organizational arrangement, consisting of different components working jointly or individually towards a specific goal.” Broadly, the organs which constitute the Criminal Justice System in India include the legislature, the police, the courts, the prosecution, and the correctional facilities. It is a common opinion in the legal fraternity that the present day criminal justice system is an inheritance from our colonizers, and hasn’t changed much since India attained independence. IPS officer R.K. Raghavan in his book World Factbook Of Criminal Justice Systems has stated that: “In sum, the criminal Justice System in India is a legacy of the British system.”

THE MACHINERY AND ITS COMPONENTS

For the sake of further arguments, the components of the metaphorical machinery of the criminal justice system are briefly mentioned as follows:

1. The Legislature

The legislature in India is the point of initiation, as well as the fuel of the criminal justice system. The various legislations, therefore, define the crime and its punishment.

2. The Police

The role of the police is to ensure law enforcement. The Police are given these obligations to protect harmony, and to ensure the law and order, to prevent wrongdoings and to capture the violators of the law. The police serves as a sub-framework for law enforcement without which Most of the Criminal Justice Systems can't satisfy their obligations.

3. The Court

Courts play the most fundamental role in the Criminal Justice System. Not only do they lead a victim to justice by reprimanding or penalizing the guilty, the courts also ensure that a deterrent is established so as to prevent the same type of crime from taking place in the future.

4. The Prosecution

The victim is represented by the prosecution. The prosecutor governs how and under what Sections of the relevant statutes the accused ought to be prosecuted in law.

5. Correctional Facilities

The correctional facilities attempt to rehabilitate criminals to ensure that (a) they do not go back to breaking the law again, and (b), such rehabilitation of the offender might prevent others from violating the laws.

NEED FOR DRASTIC REFORMS: EXPERT ADVICE

Presumption of Innocence”- a gag:

One of the most frequently observed drawbacks of the criminal justice system is its inefficiency. It is submitted that the objective of the criminal justice system has been tainted, in the sense that instead of being an instrument of justice for the innocent and a means to hold the guilty party accountable, the system is now being misused as a tool of harassment.

It was recently opined by Retd Justice Madan B Lokur on an online forum, that the harassment of Arnab Goswami is an instance of “Rampant Misuse of Criminal Justice System calling for Interventionist Approach From Supreme Court”. He pointed out that “A broadcast on the R Bharat channel on April 21, 2020 led to a handful of FIRs and criminal complaints against its owner-editor Arnab Goswami in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Jharkhand and in the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir”.

Justice Lokur further observed that “Incidentally (and it hardly matters for the purposes of my submission) the complaints were in identical terms and, as noted by the SC, the language, content and sequencing of paragraphs and their numbering is identical”. It is submitted that the principle of “presumption of innocence” is still very much a part of the Indian legal system, and such harassment of the accused is inconsistent with this principle.

Justice delayed is justice denied… or is it?

Another highly palpable shortcoming of the criminal judicial system is the strikingly high number of pending litigations. As per a report published by Bloomberg (on 25th September 2020), India now has almost 4 crore pending cases spanning the Supreme Court, various high courts and the numerous district and subordinate courts, according to written replies submitted by the Ministry of Law and Justice in Parliament. That compares with 3.65 crore total pending cases in India as of Feb. 1, 2020.

High number of Undertrial Prisoners

The number of under-trial prisoners in India only seems to increasing. Quoting a data from a feature done by the Hindu, “The number of people lodged in Indian prisons as undertrials increased at a faster rate between 2001 and 2019 than those convicted. At the end of 2019, 3.28 lakh prison inmates were undergoing trial, while 1.42 lacs were convicted”.

Additionally, seven in 10 of the 478,600 people in prison in Indian jails are under trial as per the 2019 National Crime Records Bureau data on prisons released in August 2020.

It is further submitted that in the cases of Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary of State of Bihar 1979 SCR (3) 532 as well as A.Lantulay v. R.S. Nayak  1988 SCR Supl. (1) 1, the Hon’ble Supreme court has held that “the fundamental right under Article 21 ensures an expedited trial to decide on the culpability of such an individual”.

CONCLUSION

It is finally submitted that disregarding the debate on Arnab Goswami’s innocence, the harassment he has been subjected to specifically with regard to various FIR’s being filed all over the country is synonymous to another loose screw in the mechanism of the dwindling machinery of the criminal justice system in India. As the experts are rightly asking for Supreme Court’s intervention in filling the gaps left by the inadequacy of the archaic criminal justice system, one can only hope for a radical revolution of the machinery of criminal justice system in days to come.

 

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