Court Marshal

When law is not on your side, is it possible to get a fair trial?

The bar is clearly a hurdle in way of the right of a victim to a fair investigation.

 |  Court Marshal  |  4-minute read |   12-05-2016
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Last week, the Delhi High Court took umbrage at the high rate of acquittal in criminal cases decided in the past five years in the capital. In what is sure to shake the confidence of people in the justice delivery system, more than 81 per cent cases heard by the high court from 2011-15 ended in acquittal.

With the high court indicating that a "botched-up" investigation or arrest of innocent persons could be leading to acquittals, mere increase in police personnel may not do justice to victims of crime who may be fighting lost battles in the given circumstances.

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Apart from action against erring policemen, there may be a need to compensate victims of unsolved crimes and give more rights to victims to help them keep a tab on investigation and trial.

With victims having no better status and greater role to play than a witness during investigation and trial, at times they become helpless witnesses to shoddy, prejudiced or even mala fide investigation by the police.

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While courts need to ensure that trial is fair for both the accused and victims, more rights to victims can create a vigilante group, which can prevent attempts at collusion between accused and law enforcement agencies. A victim has a right to file a protest petition if the police files a closure report after investigation.

The magistrate, if convinced, can order further investigation.

But the statistics, which startled the high court, mostly pertained to cases in which police filed charge sheets.

Ironically, victims generally do not get the opportunity to seek further investigation even if there are gaping holes in a charge sheet filed by the police.

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While Section 173(8) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) permits investigating authorities to go for further investigation even after the filing of a charge sheet, a magistrate can neither on his own nor on an application by victims/complainants order further investigation after he has already taken cognisance of a charge sheet.

Though it seemed unreasonable, the Supreme Court in the 1997 Randhir Singh Rana case left no scope for ambiguity by holding that a magistrate cannot order further probe after taking cognisance of an offence except on a request by the investigating agency.

The bar is clearly a hurdle in way of the right of a victim to a fair investigation - an investigation, which is complete and conducted without prejudice or ulterior motives.

A fair trial is not possible if the investigation does not cover all aspects or is manipulated. The only remedy available to victims is to file a writ petition before the high court to point to the lapses.

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Stressing that the bar would remain till Randhir Singh Rana was not overruled, the Gauhati High Court observed in a judgment in 2011 that it was "difficult to conceive of a situation, where the court, on noticing a defect or deficiency" cannot direct further investigation.

Coming back to the statistics, the rate of acquittal in cases where victims were women, elderly or children was higher than the overall acquittal rate of 61.7 per cent.

The data produced by the Delhi Police shows that in cases of crime against women the rate of acquittal in trial court was 71.4 per cent and in high court 84.5 per cent.

Undoubtedly, an increase in police manpower to ensure a separate wing of investigators and efficient laboratories for scientific evidence can help increase the rate of conviction.

But the faith and confidence in the system can only be restored by more involvement of victims in the process of prosecution and streamlining the scheme for compensation and providing help in rehabilitation of victims in cases of need.

To ensure that victims did not suffer on account of failure on part of the police, Section 357A was inserted in the CrPC to set in motion the process for providing immediate succour to victims of crime without waiting till the end of trial.

The provision, however, does not seem to have made much difference on the ground despite being in force since December 31, 2009.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Writer

Gyanant Singh Gyanant Singh @gyanant

The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer.

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