Ritu Chaudhary and Armaan Motiwala are Fifth Year Law Students Pursuing Business Law Specialisation at NMIMS Kirit P. Mehta School of Law, Mumbai.
The criminal justice system of India is extensively regarded as one of the most disorganized justice systems of the world. From constant delay in investigation and inquiry to mechanical and outdated approach used by the police officials while handling a case, the victims have to face court delays and procedural lags in order to get justice in this country. Every person has an inalienable right to fair and speedy trial but the reality in this regard tends to differ.
With this backdrop, an attempt has been made by the authors to identify and analyse some of the many administrative challenges which hinder the recourse to justice and recommend the possible measures that the judicial administration may take into consideration so as to overcome these challenges and restore the faith of the society, back in the judicial administration.
Keywords: Investigation; Victims; Fair Trail; Challenges; Justice.
In India, every citizen has been granted certain rights by the State which are necessary to live one’s life in a dignified and peaceful manner. These rights are enshrined and protected under the Constitution of India. However, rights such as ‘right to equality before law/equal protection of law’[i] and ‘protection of life and personal liberty’[ii] are embedded as inalienable rights that must be available to every person regardless of his nationality and inherently include the right towards a fair & speedy trial.
The criminal justice system of India primarily originated from a forty-seven year old criminal jurisprudence and prosecution system which is the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (“Cr.P.C”). The objective of Cr.P.C is to provide a machinery for investigation, inquiry, trial and punishment of offenders, for every offence that has taken place under its domain or under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, thereby granting justice to the victims
Considering the grassroot realities, there are numerous challenges in the current criminal justice administration such as corruption in judiciary, vast powers of police and mechanical nature of investigations, all leading to be an accomplice in the denial of justice to the victims, as a result of which a vacuum has been created in ensuring the timely disposal of cases. Hence, there is a long way to go to instill confidence in the criminal justice machinery amongst the members of society.
Challenges Hindering The Course Of Justice
The State has the primary responsibility to protect the life and liberty of its citizens. To facilitate this, the criminal justice administration system has given significant powers to the police to maintain law and order in the society. And in case of any apprehension or actual threat to life and liberty of any person, the police force has been given the liberty to use their powers to investigate into such an offence. It is pertinent to note that the evidence collected by the police serves as the crux on the basis of which a case is established and presented before the court.
Although police administration is widely respected for their arduous roles in the process of protecting the citizens of India, there are cases which raise serious concerns over their vast powers, one of them being delay or denial or using improper methods in registration of First Information Report (“F.I.R”). Section 154 of Cr.P.C.[iii] mandates registration of F.I.R if the information/inquiry discloses commission of any cognizable offence irrespective of the credibility of such information as held in the case of Lalita Kumari v. Union of India[iv]. Even after such a mandate, the police in most cases registers the F.I.R by taking a parochial and mechanical approach and no efforts are taken to collect evidences and witnesses in a time bound manner. This leaves scope for tampering with the evidences which ultimately results in the mockery of the entire judicial administration system.
A major impediment in the role of police is the lack of interest with which an investigation is conducted. The police investigations lack in providing concrete evidence against an accused, which serves as a major reason why accused are let off by the court on the ground of ‘lack of evidence’. In the Akshardham terror attack case[v], a rift in the claims between the police departments of Jammu & Kashmir and Ahmedabad led to an uncalled delay at the investigation stage, which ultimately resulted in the accused having to spend twelve years in prison before being acquitted by the Supreme Court. While acquitting the accused, the Hon’ble Supreme Court slammed the investigation done by the Gujarat police as being incompetent. Another case wherein there has been much talk about the unprofessional investigation by the police is the Arushi Talwar case[vi], where the investigation has seemed to go all wrong, right from the evidence collected at the crime scene to the alleged tampering of the swab samples. In this case too, the accused were acquitted after spending nearly four years in jail.
There are many other instances as well wherein the judicial administration has failed to provide speedy trial to the innocent, thereby infringing their fundamental and constitutional rights. In Rudul Sah v. State of Bihar[vii] the accused was illegally detained and languished in jail for fourteen years even after his order of acquittal was passed by the concerned court. Cases like these, highlight the inefficiency of the administration of courts to provide justice in a timely manner so as to protect the victims right as expected in a civilized and democratic country like ours. The Supreme Court in Hussainaira Khatoon v. State of Bihar[viii] held that right to speedy trial and free legal aid is ensured under Article 21 and callousness of the judicial system cannot take away this right from an individual.
Another major setback that the justice administration system faces is with the custodial torture under the aegis of custodial interrogation which mostly results in custodial death or permanent impairment of a part of the body of the accused. Section 176 (1A) of Cr.P.C gives powers to the Judicial Magistrate/Metropolitan Magistrate to hold an inquiry in cases of custodial death. However, this provision is rarely used by the victim’s family to claim justice due to the lack of awareness and fear of further atrocities by the police. The recent incident which sparked rage across the country was committed in Sathankulam town of Tamil Nadu where on the pretext of interrogation, the police officials brutally murdered the father-son duo.[ix]
The Apex court in the case of Prakash Singh v. Union of India[x] provided guidelines to control the vast powers of the police and directed the central government to formulate policies for implementation of police reforms in India, wherein a Police Complaints Authority would be set up at State and District level to monitor and probe into such police brutality. However, many states have failed to implement these guidelines. With the increasing incidents of custodial torture and deaths, it can be construed that the implementation of the existing laws is not stringent enough to act as a deterrent measure to avoid such gross human rights violations.
However, it is pertinent to note that the criminal justice administration is not solely dependent on the role of the police force. Although, initial investigation and gathering evidence serves as the infrastructure upon which a case is built, a transparent inquiry and trial are the focal points for justice to be served. With the judicial system in the country having been infiltrated at the highest levels with corruption, scams and money laundering, cases have piled up year after year without any standalone judgement. Therefore, it is logical to say that, getting justice in a time bound manner in today’s times seems like an unattainable goal.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Taking into consideration the problems discussed above, it is crucial to reinstate the confidence of the society in criminal justice administration. To achieve this, it is necessary that the entire system of justice administration should focus on taking a practical approach in every case as much as possible along with the procedural aspects, since handling cases in a mechanical way alone will not ensure justice in the times to come.
It is imperative to understand that there is a need of stricter and timely enforcement of laws to administer justice to the victims as any delay in justice is justice denied and to do so, more judges should be appointed in the judiciary, thereby ensuring timely disposal of cases. In addition to providing adequate monetary compensation to the victims, judges should also consider other means of ensuring justice such as rehabilitating the victims in cases of rape, as monetary compensation in such cases cannot be quantified, given the extreme mental distress and agony the victim and the family has to go through. To ascertain this, active participation of judges is required in every matter before it as judges.
Even though India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), it has failed to bring in any legislation to enforce the provisions mentioned therein. To protect its citizens from such inhuman treatment by public servants, the Parliament needs to resume its discussions on the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2017[xi].
Meanwhile, at the State level, the police force should also be made sensitive of their role in the society especially in criminal justice administration, and appropriate penal action should be taken against police authorities who try to manipulate the course of administration of justice thereby, acting as a deterrent measure for the entire police administration.
There must be greater morale for the entire workforce under the criminal justice administration in terms of investigating right from the base level coupled with timely inquiry and holding subsequent trials so as to ensure speedy disposal of cases which is the need of the hour.
[i] India Const. Art. 14.
[ii] India Const. Art. 21.
[iii] The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Act No. 2 of 1974, §154 (India).
[iv] Lalita Kumari v. State, W.P. (Crl.) 68/2008 (India).
[v] Adambhai Sulemanbhai Ajmeri & Ors. v. State, (Crl. A.) 2295-96/2010 (India).
[vi] Dr. Nupur Talwar v. State, (Crl. A.) 294-94/2014 (India).
[vii] Rudal Sah v. State, (1983) 4 SCC 141 (India).
[viii] Hussainara Khatoon v. State, AIR 1979 SC 1360 (India).
[ix] Arun Janardhanan, How Tamil Nadu Police’s brutal act of revenge claimed lives of a father and son, The Indian Express, Sept. 24, 2020 at https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-tamil-nadu-police-custodial-torture-father-son-killed-thoothukudi-6479190/.
[x] Prakash Singh v. UOI, W.P (C) 310/1996 (India).
[xi] The Prevention of Torture Bill, 2017, Bill No. 29, (India).