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The need for victim oriented Criminal Justice System

GUEST COLUMN

Ashok Kumar Ashok Kumar

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Famous French sociologist Durkheim argued that crime is an inevitable and normal aspect of social life. He pointed out that crime is inevitable in all societies–be it primitive or modern societies, developing or developed.

The criminal justice system, introduced to deal with crime and criminals, encompasses the agencies like the legislature which provides the framework of legislation, police that are responsible for the enforcement of law, prosecution and the courts which deal with administration of justice and lastly the correctional services–prisons.

However, the Indian criminal justice system in its current form, does not seem victim oriented and is rather tilted towards the accused who has been given several safeguards like the presumption of innocence and burden of proof on the prosecution, to name a few.

Former Supreme Court judge Justice Krishna Iyer once rightly said, “The criminal law in India is not victim oriented and the suffering of the victim, often immeasurable, is entirely overlooked in misplaced sympathy for the criminal. Though our modern criminal law is designed to punish as well as reform the criminals, yet it overlooks the by-product of crime i.e. the victims.”

In my police career spanning over 31 years, I have experienced a disturbing trend wherein the victim is not the major concern of any of the wings of the criminal justice system. On the contrary, the accused–who in the majority of cases are more powerful–get all the privileges. The focus has mainly and always been on criminal and crime, none on the victims of crime.

It is well evident that criminal law in India is not at all victim oriented rather it is accused oriented and pain of victims is often limitless. The victims are usually overlooked in misplaced sympathy for the criminal. Ignorance of any role of the victim is not only denial of justice to the victims but also would be equivalent to negating the rule of law, the fundamental of democracy and constitutionalism.

Sadly, In India, the accused is treated as somewhat of a privileged person. Our criminal justice system demands foolproof evidence against the accused and would rather let 99 criminals go scot free than punish one innocent. Similarly, bail is the right of the accused and granting bail is the rule and not exception while in a number of cases I have noticed that the accused out on bail is a big threat to the life of the victim and witnesses. He gets all possible assistance, be it getting a defence counsel at the cost of the state at the time of the trial or getting other benefits after conviction, like aftercare reformative and rehabilitative programmes.

The powerful criminals would make all out efforts to overcome various branches of the criminal justice system including police, prosecution and prisons through money and muscle power and their influence in the society. Even if they are convicted, they are able to live a comfortable life inside the prison. There are numerous cases where the criminals were caught running extortion rackets from inside the jail, obviously with the support of the jail officials.

Even the human rights organisations–across the world–have been selective in their approach while championing the cause of human rights. They raise their voice in support of the rights of the accused rather than the victim. In my 31 years of career in police, I am yet to come across a case where any human rights organisation has spoken for the victims.Itʼs very surprising that they think only accused have human rights and not the victims. In 2015, the global human rights organisations came together against the hanging of Yakub Memon, convicted for his involvement in a series of bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993. No one spoke about the families who lost their dear ones in the bomb blasts. It’s ironic that it is the victim who sets the criminal justice system into motion but then is sent into oblivion by the system itself.

The Justice Malimath committee formed in 2000, felt that the existing system “weighed in favour of the accused and did not adequately focus on justice to the victims of crime.” The committee made a series of recommendations to ensure justice to the victims like victim compensation and providing an advocate of victim’s choice to plead on his/her behalf.

In 1996, the 154th Law Commission Report suggested a paradigm shift in India’s criminal justice system towards a victim-centric notion of justice. The Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2009 partially accepted this suggestion and granted some rights to the victims of crime as well.

There has been a sustained demand for introducing uniform victim compensation schemes in order to provide recoupment by the criminal to the victim of the crime. At present, however, there is no uniformity in the state schemes in terms of the number of categories under which a victim may apply for compensation as well as the amount of compensation. Also there is no fear of law in criminalʼs mind as he knows the loopholes in the criminal justice system. It is the innocent victim who fears the law and is most of the time silenced by the authorities by demonstrating the same.

In my book Human in Khaki I have tried to narrate how sensitive policing could change the scales in favour of the victims. We need to work on various aspects of other wings of the criminal justice system so that the criminals are not able to take advantage of money and muscle power to evade long arms of the law. We could even have some accountability criteria set for police, prosecution, judiciary and prisons for the protection of victimʼs rights. 

(The writer is the Director General of Police, Uttarakhand. The views expressed are personal)

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