THE NEW REFRAIN: No Instant Justice, No Constant Delay

Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu calls for collective efforts by all stakeholders — the government, bar and the bench — to reduce the heavy pendency of court cases in the country, reports Tehelka Bureau

The Vice-President, M. Venkaiah Naidu on December 8, 2019 called for immediate and collective efforts by all stakeholders — the government, bar and the bench to reduce the heavy pendency of court cases in the country. The observations become significant in view of country wide protests against the recent cases of rapes and crimes against women and blame going to delay in justice delivery which allows accused persons to roam free.

Delivering the Virendra Bhatia Memorial Lecture on Pillars of Democracy, the Vice-President said that “there can not be instant justice but there can not be constant delays either”. Otherwise people become restive and try to take law in their hands, he added. To make judicial process more people friendly, Naidu called for undertaking court proceedings in local languages so that people can understand it.

He also suggested that Supreme Court should have 2-3 benches across India. “No constitutional amendment is required for such a move”, he said, adding that currently people have to come to Delhi from all over India to file their cases. “They have to stay for many days in Delhi and it is expensive”, he added.

Time-bound cases

The Vice-President also opined that there is a need to decide upon the certain category of cases in time-bound manner such as the election petitions and criminal cases against sitting MPs and MLAs.  He also called upon the presiding officers of legislative bodies to decide upon the disqualification proceedings under anti-defection law in a time-bound manner. “Judiciary should also give priority to such cases”, he stressed.

He expressed concerns that any delays in justice delivery in such cases erode public confidence in the judicial and legislative bodies. Naidu said that an efficient, the transparent, accessible and affordable judicial system is a key touchstone of good governance. It can improve ease of business as well as ease of living. It instills confidence in the government. Commenting of the functioning of the legislature, the Vice-President said that a general perception is building up that the quality of debates in the Parliament and the State legislature has been declining. He appealed everyone in legislature to introspect to make constructive contributions for the welfare of society. “There is right to protest in democracy but not for obstructionism”, he added.

He asked the executive to give priority to the oppressed and to those living on the margins of society. People should be actively involved in not only drafting of various schemes and programs but also in their implementation, he emphasized. Mentioning the four pillars of democracy- the Legislature, Executive, Judiciary and the Media, Naidu said that each pillar must act within its domain but not lose sight of the larger picture. “The strength of a democracy depends upon the strength of each pillar and the way pillars complement each other. Any shaky pillar weakens the democratic structure”, he said.

M Venkaiah Naidu also stressed the need to bridge the many divides in our society by establishing an effective mechanism for every organ of the governance to perform to the best of abilities. Improving the quality of life of people and translating the Swarajya into Surajya must be our focus, he said. 

The strength of a democracy depends upon the strength of each pillar and the way pillars complement each other. Any shaky pillar weakens the democratic structure. Each of our three pillars, the legislative, executive and the judiciary need to be strong- Strong in their professional competence, Strong in their high ethical behaviour and  Strong in their commitment to national development.

Each of our pillars needs to be independent in its exercise of powers but organically linked to the other two pillars through the cementing the bond of national unity, integrity and prosperity. Over the last seventy years, our country has emerged as the world’s largest and one of the best functioning Parliamentary democracies in the world. The legislatures have been, by and large, responsive to people’s needs and aspirations.  Many laws have been enacted; Constitution has been amended 103 times to make our governance system a much better one than before.

There is a general perception, of late, that the quality of debates in the Parliament and the State legislature has been declining. It is sometimes disturbing to see that disruptions have become a more common occurrence than before. The executive pillar has been striving to reform itself to serve the country by implementing the policies formulated by the legislatures. This translation of policy intent into programmatic content and ensuring effective delivery of services is a crucial aspect of a functioning democracy. Putting the people at the centre of policy making, making sure that the benefits of democratic functioning reach the marginalized is at the heart of a vibrant democracy.

Effective dissemination and enforcement of various laws and implementation of people-centric schemes bolsters the foundation of our democracy. The ability to involve the people and make them agents of change qualitatively transforms the quality of polity to the next level. In fact, democracy thrives and sustains its relevance and strength only if the people are at the centre of the circle of development. 

Justice delivery

The third pillar is the judiciary. It is an important pillar that ensures that the laws of the land are implemented in letter and spirit and a sense of justice and fair play pervades in society. It has the onerous responsibility to interpret laws to ensure that the legislature and the executive adhere to the constitutional framework and enact and implement laws in consonance with the basic tenets of our Constitution. Like the legislature and the executive, judicial processes should become more and more people-friendly.

It is the responsibility of all to ensure that justice delivery mechanisms must be accessible, credible, equitable and transparently even-handed. Pendency of cases in various courts is a cause for concern. Immediate action and collective efforts by the bar and the bench are needed to reduce this heavy pendency. Justice delayed is justice denied. He observed that there is a need to decide the certain category of cases that are time-bound like the election petitions and criminal cases against sitting MPs and MLAs. We must ensure that election petitions, criminal cases, and disqualification proceedings under anti-defection law must be decided in a time-bound manner. Any delays in justice delivery in such cases erode public confidence in the judicial and legislative bodies.

Crimes against women are also great matter of concern. We should make the institutions that are responsible for law enforcement and dispensing justice more agile. We need more fast track courts. In fact, the processes itself should be fast tracked. Speed and objectivity are the key ingredients of an efficient judicial system.  We are currently in the midst of a national debate on the state of justice dispensing system. We cannot afford to weaken our institutions either through inaction or dysfunctional dilution of standards. An efficient, the transparent, accessible and affordable judicial system is a key touchstone of good governance, observed Vice-President of India about judicial reforms.

In the Hyderabad/Telangana case, opinions stand divided on the death of the four accused in the rape and murder case. Though the investigation team, led by Cyberabad police commissioner VC Sajjanar, claimed at a press conference that the killings were in self-defence, critics have expressed their reservations on the police’s explanation and also on people applauding the deaths. Already Andhra Pradesh, later bifurcated into Telangana, has a notorious history of extra judicial killings related to the killings of Maoists and  tribals killed during their “attempts to escape” from police custody. In this case, the NHRC has recommended for an independent investigation and said the police were not “properly alert” which resulted in the death of all four accused. The NHRC guidelines say that if the use of force cannot be justified, it would be a crime and the police officer would be guilty of culpable homicide.

Justice can’t be instant

There has been debate in different forums in recent times over delay in delivering punishment in heinous crimes, including the 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case, where the convicts were yet to be given punishment and mercy petition was still pending
before the President of India.

As debate over the extra-judicial killing of four men suspected of involvement in the Hyderabad rape and murder case became hysteric, Chief Justice S.A. Bobde made it clear that justice cannot be ‘instant’ and is not served by “revenge”.

Speaking at an event in Jodhpur, Chief Justice S.A. Bobde said that recent events had sparked a debate about the time it takes to dispose of a criminal matter.  He observed that “There is no doubt that the criminal justice system must reconsider its position, its attitudes towards time, towards laxity and towards the time it takes to dispose of a criminal matter.”

This is what Chief Justice S.A. Bobde exactly said “But I don’t think justice can ever be and ought to be instant. And justice must never ever take the form of revenge. I believe justice loses its character of justice if it becomes revenge.”

There should not be undue haste or delay in the justice delivery mechanism. Instead the mechanism should be viewed in proper perspective, Justice Bobde said at a national conclave held on December 7, 2019.  The concept of ‘instant justice’ has been associated with the worst regimes of the world but justice should not be delayed either, he said.  Nobody wants delayed justice but giving justice takes time and it must be understood in the right perspective.

Justice Bobde also pointed out the low judge- population ratio in the country, which is 20 judges per ten lakh population, while in most countries it is 50 to 80 judges per 10 lakh people. He also said “The ratio of judges compared to the litigations filed is another perspective which should be considered”.

Major overhaul of IPC

In the meanwhile, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah has asserted the NDA government’s resolve to amend the IPC and the CrPC to make them more conducive for the country. Shah’s statement came days after the Ministry of Home Affairs asked all state governments to send their suggestions for undertaking a major overhaul and recasting of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) so that it provides for a speedy justice. His observations came at the 54th conference of the Directors General of Police and Inspectors General of Police, held in Pune on December 8, 2019.

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad observed on December 9, 2019 that he would write to chief ministers and high court chief justices of all the states to complete investigation into cases of rape and those registered under the POCSO Act in two months.

Trial of such cases should also be completed within six months, the Union Law and Justice Minister said in Patna. “I am going to write letters to all the chief ministers urging them to complete the investigation within two months in rape and POCSO cases,” Prasad told reporters. Incidents of rape and crimes against women are unfortunate and highly condemnable, Prasad said. His comments came after the nationwide outrage over the alleged rape and murder cases at Hyderabad and Unnao. He, however, said that “There is a demand to give more tooth to laws and the Central government is considering it.”

Police under pressure

The police across the country are facing criticism because of an upsurge in crimes against women particularly cases of rape and killings. Whenever a gory incident like this happens, the police is under lot of pressure. However, the police version of the encounter raises a question mark as to how unarmed suspects in police custody could try to hit police.

There is no doubt that justice delivery system is poor. When justice is delayed it naturally amounts to justice denied. The resultant effect is the poor conviction rate for rape cases, which has been coming down in successive decades. For instance conviction rate was 62 per cent in 1971; 37.7 per cent in 1983; 26.9 per cent in 2009 ; and 27.1 per cent (2013) and so on.

Quite often, there is a jurisdictional dispute regarding the registration of cases as in Hyderabad/Telagana rape and murder case of the veterinary doctor.  But it does not give the police a licence to take the law in their own hands and function as judges as well as executioners because if this is allowed to continue the very foundations of the rule of law would crumble.  There can’t be shortcuts in crime investigations.

The killing of the rape suspects in the brutal rape and murder has led to public celebration and has been hailed as vindication of justice with people showering rose petals on the cops responsible for the encounter. Former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati asked police in other states to follow the example of Telangana police while in Parliament, MP Jaya Bachchan advocated lynching of the rapists.

NHRC take

Already the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) India has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports that the four accused, arrested by the police in connection with the rape and murder of veterinarian doctor in Telangana, have died in an encounter with the police at 3:00 AM morning.

In a statement issued by the NHRC, it said that as per reports, all four accused, were taken to the scene of the crime around 60 Km from Hyderabad for a re-construction as part of the investigation. Reportedly, as per police version, one of them signaled to the others, possibly to escape and they tried to snatch weapons from the police personnel when the police fired on them and they died allegedly in cross firing.

The Commission is of the opinion that this matter is required to be probed very carefully. Accordingly, it has asked its Director General (Investigation) to immediately send a team for a fact finding on the spot investigation into the matter. The team of the Investigation Division of the Commission headed by an SSP, is expected to leave immediately and submit their report, at the earliest.

The Commission has already taken cognizance of the increasing cases of rapes and sexual assault on women across the country and a detailed report has been called for from the all-State governments and police heads as well as from the Union Ministry of Women & Child Development. A number of such cases including the Telangana case had forced the Commission to intervene into the matter.

The incident, which has taken place, now clearly indicates that the police personnel were not properly alert and prepared for any untoward activity by the accused on the spot, which resulted into death of all four. The police had arrested the deceased during investigation and a judgment in the matter by the competent court was yet to be pronounced. If, the arrested persons were actually guilty, they were to be punished as per law pursuant to the directions of the competent court. Death of four persons in alleged encounter with the police personnel when they were in their custody is a matter of concern for the Commission. The Commission is aware that growing incidents of sexual assault and violence against the women has created an atmosphere of fear and anger amongst the public at large but loss of human lives even of a person arrested by the police under law, in such circumstances, would definitely give a wrong message to the society.

The Commission has already expressed its view that there is lack of “Standard Operating Procedure” to immediately respond to the panic situations by the police authorities. The Commission has been insisting upon all law enforcing agencies to keep human rights angle in their view while dealing with the persons arrested by them or being kept in their custody. The right to life and equality before law are the basic human rights recognized and granted by the Constitution of India.