By: Eleen Garg, Amity Law School, Delhi
Over the last few years, there has been a gradual increase in the rate of wrongful convictions in the country. Today, more innocent people are in prisons than ever before. Data analysis of Prison Statistics India (PSI), 2019, shows that 69.0% (3,30,487) of the total population of prisoners (4,78,600) are under trial.
 A comparison between the PSI reports of 2015 and 2019 shows that the population of prisoners under trial has increased by 1.8% over the last four years. While the data does not manifest the number of prisoners wrongfully convicted or acquitted in compliance with an indictment, we have a fallacious picture of the deplorable condition.
The pre-eminent jurist William Blackstone once said: “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” India borrows a substantial part of the UK’s legal system, but the ‘ethos’ of Blackstone’s formulation seems to be violated.
Victims, exonerated of their wrongful convictions, meet their well-deserved freedom along with many challenges. Gopal Shete, one wrongfully convicted of rape, was exonerated after ‘seven years’ only to count pennies before every meal who once earned a handsome salary of Rs. 50,000/- a month. In the meantime, his wife had remarried, and his daughters had to live in an orphanage.
The question before us is whether the Government can ‘rightly reinstate’ all the lost years of Gopal’s life and victims alike him. The failure of the Government to comply with the principles of natural justice and unjust, unlawful convictions raise specific issues that need to be analysed.
This article focuses on the appalling condition of Wrongfully Convicted Victims and the State’s responsiveness, thereby indicating the dire need of a uniform compensation legislative framework in India. For this purpose, the article has been divided into three parts; Part I focuses on how victims of wrongful conviction suffer in double jeopardy post their exoneration.
It concludes by giving the reader a sense of understanding about the degenerated lives of these prisoners; Part II briefly analyses the judicial literature on landmark cases. That part of the article would seek to establish an understanding of the approach of the Courts over the years; Part III further points out the difficulties faced by these victims as a result of the complicated procedure of the Court.
The article concludes by briefly discussing the key points of all sections of the article, stressing the need for a uniform compensation legislative framework for in India.
Wrongfully Convicted Victims and Their Tribulation through Double Jeopardy
Since the principal goal of this article is to highlight the need for a uniform compensation legislative framework in India, it is essential as a preliminary matter to examine the difficulties faced by these victims post their exoneration. This section of the paper correlates studies of various scholars and real-life case studies in order to give its readers a better understanding of the issues wrongfully convicted victims face.
For the wrongfully convicted, life after exoneration presents a plethora of issues. The abrupt shift of personality poses new obstacles to criminally incarcerated prisoners as they return to society. Many things, such as cars, clothes, culture, and the like, change outside prison.
In addition to the penalty of crimes they have not committed, victims undergo typical psychological adverse effects resulting from several years of incarceration, isolation from loved ones, and a loss of autonomy.
In our criminal justice system, the survivor of the false conviction suffers in two ways. First, it is psychological and personal, since the person who has suffered incarceration is the one who has served the jail time for the crime he never committed. Secondly, the perpetrator of a false conviction is sentenced to lifelong societal hatred and condemnation due to the incompetence of the criminal justice system.
Therefore, it is right to stress that these victims are subject to double jeopardy. The principle of Double jeopardy originates from the common law rule of “nemo debet vis vexari” which means that ‘no man should be put in peril twice for the same offence.’
These victims of the State’s culpability are put in peril twice for the offence they have never committed. Article 20(2) of the Constitution of India provides that “no person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once.” Although these victims are not prosecuted twice, their endurance towards societal hatred is none less than prosecution. Furthermore, the unlawful detention of these innocent persons infringes their Right to Freedom, enshrined as a ‘fundamental right’ in Part III of the Constitution.
In October 1993, Nisarudin (a 19-year-old) was booked by the police for a bomb blast in an educational institution. He was ‘sentenced to life’ by the Terrorist and Disruptive Act (TADA) court in Ajmer on Feb. 28, 2005, only to be later exonerated by the Supreme Court on May 11, 2016, on the ground of inadmissibility of confession given by him in police custody.
The man lost ‘23 years’ of his life due to the combined negligence of Judiciary and the authorities. The Court did not grant him any compensation. He was rendered impoverished, and the broken financial condition prevented him from filing a plea for compensation.
In another case of Assam, Madhumala Das was arrested and held in the detention centre for three years for a crime she had never committed. Her deaf and dumb daughter wandered through the village looking for her mother, and she soon went into trauma. The case turned out to be one of ‘mistaken identity’ in the investigation. Madhumala lost three years of her life due to her fateful resemblance to the killer. Police’s negligence also caused an irreparable loss to her daughter.
Not only unlawful arrests and imprisonment contribute to the loss of years, but victims are also subjected to even social isolation and ostracism after release. For years separated from friends and families and the lost opportunity to skill oneself, the fearsome convictions will not end with liberty.
With no income, lodging, conveyance, comfort, or advertising, and with a negative identity record that, despite innocence, is rarely cleaned, the charge of being accused lingers even after the pardon.
The scholars who have researched the mechanism of justice for exonerated individuals are unanimous in finding that state restitution processes are atrociously deficient.
Dr Lola Vollen, a physician and co-founder of the Berkeley-based Life after Exoneration Program says “People do not recover from this, When you struggle to make a living or to find an apartment and people look at your work record and see this big gap, even though you are innocent, you are damaged goods. They do not know where to start.”
According to the report of U.S. Department of Justice, wrongfully convicted victims face long-term psychological, social, emotional and financial consequences over their lifetimes following their release. The psychological and emotional effects include, inter alia, terror, mistrust, anxiety, psychiatric illness, and sleepless nights.
Victims also undergo financial difficulties when they have lost the opportunity to skill themselves and end up unemployed in society. Furthermore, the financial crisis prevents them from becoming involved in social activities.
These victims never recover from the trauma of being imprisoned for years while being innocent. No amount of compensation can restore the lost years of victims’ life. According to the Innocence Project report , the majority of victims often have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a condition in which the person suffers consequences such as loss of interest in enjoyable things, hyper-vigilance (a condition in which he remains alert all the time), frightening thoughts, and negative feelings due to a life-changing event. The list of consequences is non-exhaustive and varies from case to case. Sometimes it can take years for PTSD to get away, and sometimes it does not.
The challenges faced by victims post their exoneration arise after they have convinced the Court about their innocence, implying they have surpassed the arduous judicial process, overcame expenses of affording a quality legal aid, taken care of family’s expenses while in prison.
Even if a victim progresses through this complicated process, his chances for recourse are minimal. The downcast State of these victims compels us to ask a question of what role does Judiciary plays in the protection of these victims. The following section of the article examines the power of Judiciary to grant compensation to these victims under Article 32 and Article 226 of the Constitution.
State’s Fiasco Vis a Vis Victims’ Right to Compensation
“If I was asked to name any particular Article the most important in this constitution-an Article without which this Constitution would be a nullity- I could not refer to any other article except this one…it is the very soul of the Constitution and very heart of it.”
-Dr. Ambedkar (Speaking in Constituent Assembly Debate on the importance of Article 32 of the Constitution)
The declaration of fundamental rights is meaningless unless efficient state machinery backs it for enforcement. The maxim “ubi jus ibi remedium” which means “where there is a right there is a remedy” underpins the prominence of the State Machinery to protect the rights of its citizens.
Therefore, it was in the interest of justice that our lawmakers introduced Article 32 and 226 of the Constitution, where ‘fundamental rights’ are provided for an appropriate solution for their compliance.
The Judiciary in India plays the role of a guarantor and sentinel of the ‘Rule of Law principle’, which in turn represents the importance of peace, security, and harmony between citizens. The Supreme Court has often played an authoritative role and protected the fundamental rights of its citizens, which have been violated due to the lack of awareness of State by way of monetary compensation.
It is therefore vital to review the role of the Judiciary in cases where the fundamental rights of wrongfully convicted victims have been violated.
It was in 1983 when the Supreme Court in Rudul Shah v. State of Bihar, for the first time, faced a dilemma to whether or not award compensation to the wrongfully convicted victim whose fundamental rights were violated.
The petitioner was unlawfully detained in prison for ‘14 years’ and filed a Habeas Corpus petition before the Supreme Court underArt.32 of the Constitution demanding for compensation along with other reliefs. The Court believed that Article 21, would be denuded if the Court ordered for mere acquittal of the petitioner without any grant of compensation.
The Supreme Court awarded Rs. 30,000 as compensation to the petitioner and held that the scope of Art.32 is sufficiently broad to include the ‘power to grant compensation’ for infringements of fundamental rights only in cases where the infringement of rights is gross.
The grant of reimbursement by the Supreme Court, according to Art.32 and the High Court under Art.226 of the Constitution, is collective reparation dependent on the strict liability of breaches of constitutional rights.
The Court, while hearing a writ petition in the case of Ram Lakhan Singh v State of UP,ordered a compensation amount of Rs.10 lakhs to the petitioner who fought a prolonged legal battle for ten years and also spent 11 days in jail. In another case, a nine-year-old child died due to police’s atrocities whose kin was awarded a compensation amount of Rs. 75000.
The Court in Ayodhya Dube & Ors. v. Ram Sumar Singh, held that the omission of a proper procedure, the lack of disciplinary intervention, and the insufficient evaluation of sufficient facts lead to perversity, which may lead to the severe obstruction of justice.
The Judiciary has been retrospectively aware of the factors leading to ‘Miscarriage of Justice’. Furthermore, their lack of action to frame a uniform legislative framework for compensation indicates their ignorance towards the degraded status of these victims. The lack of action on the part of Judiciary continues to undermine the country’s judicial system.
Delhi High Court in the landmark case of Babloo Chauhan @ Dabloo v. State Government of NCT of Delhi, specifically stressed the need for a comprehensive legislative framework to compensate the wrongfully convicted victims. The Court opined that:
“There is at present in our country no statutory or legal scheme for compensating those who are wrongfully incarcerated. The instances of those being acquitted by the High Court or the Supreme Court after many years of imprisonment are not infrequent. They are left to their devices without any hope of reintegration into society or rehabilitation since the best years of their life have been spent behind bars, invisible behind the high prison walls. There is an urgent need, therefore, for a legal (preferably legislative) framework for providing relief and rehabilitation to victims of wrongful prosecution and incarceration.”
While numerous cases, have been resolved by the Supreme Court and the High Court in which State has been held liable for its tortious and nugatory acts, the merits of the right to compensation, or the amount of compensation, are not defined under any system thereby fostering ambiguity in the Indian law. Some of the landmark cases discussed below further reflect the jumbled approach of the Judiciary.
The infamous Akshardham terror case, smears upon the judicial literature of wrongful convictions. In this case, the Supreme Court reprimanded the authorities for conducting the investigation of terror attacks in an injudicious manner and levying severe allegations against innocent persons.
Astoundingly, the Court ‘refused’ to entertain the victims’ plea for compensation who languished in jails for ‘more than a decade’ for no fault of their own.Senior Advocate K.T.S Tulsi (then counsel for the petitioner) rightly asked the bench, “The Apex Court gave them back freedom but who can give them back the ten years they spent behind bars for no-fault? The State must adequately compensate them as it violated the right to life brazenly.”
Astonishingly to our lamentation, the Court denied the appeal for compensation on the ‘basis’ that the acquittal of the victims by the Court would not automatically give them the right to compensation and would set a ‘dangerous precedent’ if the appeal was allowed.
Following the footsteps of Supreme Court, Hyderabad Court in the year 2017 acquitted ten accused persons in the Hyderabad 2005 suicide bombing case. In this case, the accused were charged for a conspiracy behind the suicide attack that took place in Police task force office on Oct. 12, 2005, thereby killing two officials.
The Court accentuated that the police arrested the suspects without any concrete evidence and has subsequently failed to prove conspiracy on the part of accused. The innocents lost ‘ten years’ of their lives due to authorities’ negligence.
Neither was any compensation granted to the victims nor was any coercive action taken against the investigators. It is not the first time when police committed such a faux pas. These cases are often viewed as high profile cases.
Due to political pressure, the police often arrest innocent people based on religion or minority in order to resolve the case as soon as possible. The police do not pay any heed to the repercussions of their acts, making innocent lives miserable.
The nugatory actions of the authorities impact not only the wrongfully convicted victims but also the families of those victims. In the case of Mohd. Jalees Ansari & Ors. v Central Bureau of Investigation, when the victim’s brother was asked to file a Compensation Petition, he said that we are financially and mentally drained and have no will to fight another dubious legal battle; we sacrificed everything we had to get my brother home.
In another landmark case of S. Nambi Narayanan v. State of Kerala, the Supreme Court awarded Rs. 50 lakh as compensation to the ISRO scientist who was wrongfully accused of espionage after a long legal battle of 24 years. The fact that restitution was granted 24 years post the wrongful conviction significantly reminds us of the need to ‘rectify wrongdoings promptly’.
The fact that Rudul Shah was granted compensation in the amount of Rs. 30000 for being captive for 14 years in prison and that Ram Lakhan Singh was granted compensation in the amount of Rs. 15 Lakhs for being imprisoned for 11 days reflects the lack of consistency of the Judiciary’s approach to these cases, thereby highlighting the need of a ‘uniform compensation legislative framework’.
Moreover, the complex procedural requirements have added to the misery of the victims. The following section of this article briefly highlights the difficulties faced by these victims in seeking justice from the Appellate courts of the country.
From the District Court to the Supreme Court
The journey to the Supreme Court from District court is undoubtedly a complex one, and not many victims intend to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) before the Court owing to certain factors. The arduous process involves an appeal from one Court to another, and if they are fortunate, their argument is considered by a bench that is adequately discerning to test the facts and determine their innocence.
The Indian judicial system has demonstrated a lack of accountability by failing to repay citizens who have been jailed on false charges. The non-uniform approach adopted by Judiciary has further worsened their disorderly situation.
PIL is seen as an efficient method against the State’s nescience. However, factors such as illiteracy, poverty, lack of legal identity, social condemnation, and lack of quality legal assistance often act as an impediment in access to justice for poor, which manifests the ailing condition of the legal system of poverty-stricken India.
Research suggests that the majority of petitioners had to wait for countless months and, sometimes, years to start a proper court case because of the complex procedural requirements combined with the perplexed approach taken by the Court to award compensation to wrongfully convicted victims. The pendency of cases correlated with complex judicial procedural requirements can easily dissuade a victim from filing an appeal before the court.
The National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), which monitors the performance of courts at the national level, shows that 26.55% (26.462) of appeals against convictions have been pending before the High Courts of the country for more than ten years.
Further, the data shows that 27.83% (27,738) of appeals against convictions have been pending for more than five years. The data represents the humongous backlog of the judiciary of the country. The ‘speedy delivery of justice’ is non-viable when more than half of the appeals against convictions have been pending in the country for more than five years.
The backlog of the cases can be attributed to factors such as judicial vacancies, complex procedures, and lack of awareness among the legal fraternity.
In order to ensure justice for the poor in India, the State needs to look beyond ‘judicial procedural norms’. The State must adopt a comprehensive policy for the transformation of social norms in order to promote legal awareness among all sections of society.
The state needs to ensure that factors such as judicial vacancies, complex processes that create barriers to the prompt delivery of justice to people are eliminated from the system.
While repeating the age-old cliché, ‘justice delayed is justice denied,’ we must note that Courts and the State are evenly responsible for the miserable plight of victims.
The omission of a judicial procedure, lack of legal interpretation, and the lack of sufficient examination of relevant facts by the prosecutor or the judiciary lead to severe obstruction of justice. Their subjection to unjust punishment and societal hatred is nothing but a dirty blotch on the State’s machinery.
Uniform Compensation Framework: What does the Law Commission of India recommend?
The Law Commission of India (LCI) in its 277th report titled ‘Wrongful Prosecution (Miscarriage of Justice): Legal Remedies’ headed by Hon’ble Justice Dr B.S Chauhan has recommended certain amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC). While it is beyond the reach of this article to objectively examine all the recommendations made by LCI in the aforementioned report, it will briefly analyse the recommendations made concerning the Compensation Legislative Framework only.
The Commission recommends setting up of ‘Special Courts’ in each district for delivery of expedient and speedy justice to victims. These courts shall solely entertain the Compensation Pleas filed by wrongfully accused victims and their family members. The jurisdiction of these courts has been classified based on;
- The place in which the wrongful prosecution took place;
- District in which the victim resides.
- The nature of proceedings to be followed by Special Courts shall be Summary Procedures as prescribed under Order XXXVII of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. The burden of proof shall lie on the petitioner to prove misconduct on the part of the defendant which led to Wrongful prosecution.
- The most important part of the recommendation is the Compensation legislative framework set out by LCI in its report. The LCI observed that it might not be feasible to set out a fixed amount of compensation for these victims; they recommended the inclusion of ‘Guiding Principles’ to be followed by Courts while deciding the quantum of compensation. The guiding principles shall be included in the amendments prescribed by LCI. These principles include the “seriousness of the offence, severity of punishment, length of detention, damage to health, harm to reputation, and loss of opportunities.”
The LCI also prescribes grant of interim compensation by the State to the victims. The compensation shall be of ‘Pecuniary’ and ‘Non-Pecuniary nature’; Pecuniary being the amount of the compensation decided by Courts based on Guiding principles; the non-pecuniary compensation shall mean measures taken by the State for the reintegration of the victim into society, in particular employment opportunities, the removal of social stigma associated with the crime that the victim has never committed.
India is a welfare state, and its legal system has grown exponentially over the last few years. The system has had a significant impact on every part of the citizen’s life, from conception to death. In such a situation, state atrocities are a violation of human rights in the context of illegal prosecutions.
Ensuring the protection of the individual and the perpetuation of the principles of Natural Justice, law and order are the ‘sine qua non’ for a civilised society. However, it takes strong will power on the part of the ruling party to ensure that law and order are maintained and that citizens’ rights are protected, thus making it a civilised society.
Wrongfully accused victims are deprived of their basic fundamental rights. The appalling state of the victims, following their conviction, manifests the state’s unwise approach to these victims. After their release from prison, the victims depend on the state’s mercy.
Victims are subject to all kinds of trauma, and no state assistance is provided. Several scholarship reports unanimously indicate how victims and their families are affected by these traumas. Since it depends solely on the will of the court to grant compensation or not, it has demonstrated a non-uniform approach which undermines the public’s trust in the judiciary.
A careful review of cases and the Court’s outlook towards these victims does not eliminate the existence of a question as to how the State and the Courts have failed to protect their fundamental rights. The non-grant of compensation for the Bomb blast accused, who later turned out to be innocent after decades of trial, forces us to think about the speedy and fair delivery of justice in our country.
The compensation scheme varies from case to case, making it inconsistent, capricious and arbitrary. Inexplicably, the mere granting of the compensation constitutes a small step towards restoring the status quo of the victims. Moreover, the deplorable condition of these victims is aggravated by the procedural complexities. The NJDG statistics show the mammoth backlog of cases. The path to indefinite redress, therefore, involves years of struggle in the courts.
LCI partially provides solutions in order to simplify the complex system. The immediate context of the LCI’s 277th report is therefore much rooted in practicality. Be it setting up of Special Courts, application of guiding principles, the grant of interim compensation, all measures have the potential of stoking innovation and rectifying the grey areas of the compensation laws.
Nevertheless, what will take to convert this potentiality into reality? It has been almost two years since the report was published; much has not been done by the Government to implement the recommendations of the LCI. The concerned authorities need to assault on the senses of this inept supine system to formulate indispensable reform. The State and the Judiciary need to make a collaborative effort to transform our country’s complex system because it has been rightly said: “Unity is strength…when there are teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”
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