New law needed to protect victims of heinous crimes

Laypersons do not know there is no law to protect the victims’ families of heinous crimes from being mentally tortured to seek justice after their breadwinners have been killed. They are in the hands of a prosecution comprising venal police officers and overworked public prosecutors.

Olav AlbuquerqueUpdated: Friday, June 24, 2022, 02:36 AM IST
article-image
Representative image. | kalhh/PIXABAY

Killing a human being is now passe, with the judiciary leaning towards reforming rather than punishing those involved in a road rage incident like Navjot Singh Sidhu. The media has gone ga-ga over the food, ailments and other trivia of this comedian. Never mind the innocent 60-year-old man whom he killed with a blow to the chest. His family had an exhaustive battle right up to the Supreme Court only to see that their nemesis was sentenced to a year in jail with a lot of fanfare from the media.

This is why we urgently need a law to protect those who are victims of heinous crimes, because they are in the hands of a prosecution comprising venal police officers and overworked public prosecutors. Also, the obsolete dictum that the prosecution has to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt can be modified to an axiom that if the defence case rests on too many loopholes, the accused stands convicted.

Not only does Navjot Singh Sidhu not show the least remorse for killing the man who only asked Sidhu to move his car out of the way, his alleged VIP treatment includes a special diet tailored for his ailments with other accompanying benefits. Apparently, all are not equal before the law as mandated by Article 14, which is why Sidhu is treated differently from the other convicts.

Laypersons do not know there is no law to protect the victims’ families of heinous crimes from being mentally tortured to seek justice after their breadwinners have been killed. To ensure that no innocent person was hanged for a crime he did not commit, the British common law which evolved over 200 years ago declared it was better that 99 murderers escaped rather than one innocent person be convicted. That is precisely what is happening today.

This principle or ratio decidendi crystallised into a judicial precedent down the decades so that in 1980 when the Supreme Court pronounced that only in the rarest of rare murders should the death sentence be awarded, it was only reiterating what had evolved earlier. The axiom of weighing the brutality of the murder against mitigating circumstances has solidified into a basic principle for all Indian trial courts to follow so that celebrities like Salman Khan and Navjot Singh Sidhu and their ilk can afford top-notch lawyers who exploit these obsolete precedents.

It is impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that those who murder others have done so with premeditation, unless they were insensate enough to leave a chain of unbroken evidence to hang themselves. This is why, in reality, some of those who murder or maim others walk away scot free. After a murderer is convicted, a division bench of a high court has to confirm the trial court’s death sentence followed by an appeal to the Supreme Court and then a petition to the President or Governor seeking clemency. The minimum time taken for these chains of appeal is nearly 15 years, by which time the victims’ families have been emotionally and financially drained.

As in previous cases, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence pronounced by a Yavatmal trial court on a rapist, Shatrughna Baban Meshram, the maternal uncle of a 30-month-old child whom he rapaciously brutalised in 2013. He was so bestial with his own niece, that the vaginal and anal canals merged. There were tears and bite marks all over her tender body which culminated in the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court confirming the death sentence pronounced by the Yavatmal trial court.

Meshram appealed to the Supreme Court where a three-judge bench led by Justice Uday Umesh Lalit commuted the death sentence of the convict to 25 years in jail. It is difficult to conceive how such a history-sheeter will be reformed after living with other convicts. The judgment has recorded that compassionate grounds cannot be invoked while sentencing a person to death for the brutality of the crime committed — more so when this rapist, like Navjot Singh Sidhu who was not convicted for murder, did not show any remorse for killing a human being.

Yet, this rapist, Shatrughna Meshram, whose brutality emerges in the medical report of the victim, continues to be a guest of the state, because of infirmities in the law and the judges’ interpretation of these infirmities. The reasoning of the trial court and the high court subsume to that of the Supreme Court whose supremacy, but not infallibility, cannot be questioned.

Of course, there are exceptions to this norm as when Justice Abhay Oka of the Supreme Court restored the life imprisonment imposed by a sessions court in Punjab on one Amritpal Singh and his accomplices for murdering one Balveer Singh in 2005. They pushed him into a vehicle and took him to Handumangarh where they brutally beat him and then threw his body into a canal after smashing the face.

In appeal, the Punjab and Haryana high court commuted the sentence to eight years in jail with a fine of Rs 10,000 on each of the convicts on the absurd reasoning that the convicts did not intend to cause the death of the victim. Hoping for a further reduction in sentence, the convicts chose to appeal to the apex court for a further reduction in their sentence. To their chagrin, the apex court restored the sentence of the trial court, proving the dictum that sometimes at least the victim does get justice.

But exceptions do not make the norm. The famous Marxist chief minister EMS Namboodiripad who was convicted for committing contempt of court had declared, “If you lose in a subordinate court, you double your stakes and approach the higher forum. You may succeed.” Interpretation of the law is not precise, which is why this Marxist thinker was right.

Olav Albuquerque holds a Ph.D in law and is a senior journalist-cum-advocate of the Bombay High Court. He tweets at @DrOlavAlbuquer1

(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. To receive it on Telegram, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

RECENT STORIES

Maharashtra: SC begins hearing Shinde & rebel MLAs' plea against disqualification

Maharashtra: SC begins hearing Shinde & rebel MLAs' plea against disqualification

CBI court refuses to extend judicial custody of Delhi Minister Satyendar Jain

CBI court refuses to extend judicial custody of Delhi Minister Satyendar Jain

Karnataka High Court acquits woman accused of killing her epileptic baby

Karnataka High Court acquits woman accused of killing her epileptic baby

Navi Mumbai: No water supply in Ulwe node since Friday

Navi Mumbai: No water supply in Ulwe node since Friday

Alia Bhatt announces 'pregnancy' with Ranbir Kapoor: 'Our baby coming soon'

Alia Bhatt announces 'pregnancy' with Ranbir Kapoor: 'Our baby coming soon'