“Justice delayed is justice denied” is a legal maxim we have heard too often. With soaring crime rates and an abject failure of the legal machinery to dispense justice in a timely fashion, people have taken it upon themselves to mete out their own idea of justice. Extra-judicial killings like fake encounters and mob lynching have unfortunately seen a rise in recent times. Tushar Kol analyses this disturbing trend and its location from a legal standpoint.
I. A Changing Justice System
It is rather effortless and convenient to come up with a bottomless list of shortcomings and pitfalls concerning anything rather than finding a fix. In our yearning to find a solution to all the problems and predicaments plaguing our society, we, as a group of assertive individuals, tend to forget our roles and responsibilities within the socio-political sphere and towards every living and breathing creature in existence.
“The role of the police is to catch culprits, punish them, and serve justice”, someone said proudly, in a survey aimed to find out the quality of awareness. The answer bothered me as it was the popular answer when asked about the role of the police. However, the apex court doesn’t seem to agree. In Om Prakash v. State of Jharkhand, it observed-
“It is not the duty of the police officers to kill the accused merely because he is a dreaded criminal. Undoubtedly, the police have to arrest the accused and put them up for trial. Such killings must be deprecated. They are not recognized as legal by our criminal justice administration system. They amount to State-sponsored terrorism.”
However, it is futile to quote the Supreme Court as people’s belief and faith in the justice system seem to have withered. The end result or ‘justice’ in our fanciful definition is what matters to us. Who is delivering and how it is delivered seems irrelevant to us.
For now, the civil society has taken charge considering it to be its divine duty. The police, who are expected to catch and investigate, seems to be interested in distributing justice out of generosity as well; to say nothing of their remarkable job in registering FIRs, investigating cases appropriately, and being co-operative with commoners in difficulties. Police still have time to deliver justice and cleanse society in their distinguished ways.
Civil society shows concern too, fervently seeking to be a part of the justice system and law enforcement as a vigilante. Therefore, it can be seen performing police duty and sometimes the role of a judge without being able to distinguish between an ‘accused’ and a ‘convict’. It is ironic and unfortunate that as an outcome, we have new kinds of justice delivery which are impressively instantaneous — police encounters or extra-judicial killings and street justice (mob lynching).
When the imposition of the death penalty is still a debatable issue (from the perspective of humanity and authority to kill), extra-judicial killings astonishingly still find a base. The prominent question is how to categorize extrajudicial killings? Justice or crime? For some it is crime and for some, it is all justice. The duality is incongruous. What separates justice from crime with regard to the killing of humans? Even if the death penalty for a crime is justified, who has the authority to mete that out?
Taking up human rights, ‘death penalty’ and ‘dexterity’ of the police department, this piece of writing addresses a complex flaw which is fundamental while concentrating on the paradoxical condition prevalent, the question — whether we have developed into a lawless society, chasing a distant idea of a lawful society?
II. Right to Life and a Fair Trial
The right to life and the corollary right to be free from the arbitrary deprivation of life were formally codified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 6(1) provides that “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”
In Solomou and Others v. Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights considered whether Turkey had violated the prohibition against the arbitrary deprivation of life when an unarmed civilian was shot and killed during a public demonstration.
“A potential illegal or violent action from a group of persons cannot, as such, justify the immediate shooting and killing of one or more other individuals who are not themselves posing a threat.”
Article 14 of the ICCPR states that all persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal established by law. Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights iterates the same.
The Constitution of India, under Article 2, states that no person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. From Article 22(1) of the Constitution, the right to be defended by a legal practitioner has further been fortified by the introduction of the Directive Principles of State Policy embodied in Article 39A of the Constitution and the enactment of Sec 304(1) of the Cr.PC, wherein a trial before the Court of Session, the accused is not represented by a pleader, and where it appears to the Court that the accused has not sufficient means to engage a pleader, the Court shall assign a pleader for his defence at the expense of the State.
While talking about a parallel and illegal criminal justice system, it is unfortunate that in many instances the provisions discussed above are more honoured in the breach than the observance.
III. The Glorification of Extra-Judicial Killings
Extra-judicial killings are homicides devoid of valid legal proceedings or adequate due process of law by state actors. Based on protections for the right to life and the security of a person, human rights law prohibits governments from arbitrarily depriving their citizens of life. This obligation springs from Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 21 of Indian Constitution, which gives a right to a fair trial.
The investigating agencies like police have no right to punish any accused without due process of law. The court alone after applying all the procedures and laws and affording an opportunity all the right of free and fair trial and hearing can impose a punishment of imprisonment or death sentence.
What is perturbing is the fact that such ‘homicides’ are glorified in society. When there is no strict and effective mechanism to rule out such extra-judicial killings caused by the hands of investigating agency consequential to low conviction rate, the glorification of such illegal measures is yet another challenge to deal with.
In November 2019, the gang rape and murder of a 26-year-old veterinary doctor in Shamshabad, near Hyderabad, sparked outrage across India. Four suspects were arrested and later, all four accused were killed in a police encounter on 6 December 2019. The ‘extra-judicial execution’ was celebrated by many while some showed consternation too. Police shrugged off their insensitive and casual approach in dealing with the case beforehand through the received praises and congratulatory remarks.
Although the case was solved by the police in 24 hours, and the family of the victim was fortunate enough to get ‘speedy justice’ unlike other victims and their families, there was still some dissatisfaction. According to the victim’s family, the response by the Police was improper, claiming that a quicker response by the police could have saved the victim’s life. The victim’s father had approached the police at 11 p.m. on 27 November, after which the police allegedly wasted time over the applicability of the jurisdiction of the police station and inappropriate questioning of the family. Constables were only sent for a search along with the family at 3 a.m.
With crime and injustice so prevalent, the life of victims due to the reckless approach of authorities and agencies are compensated with such killings. Justice is not a right today but sympathy at will by the administration.
Police in haste and pressure, instead of working to control crimes shift their focus on solving crimes to cover their failures which in some cases turn out to be extra-judicial killings. In Ryan school case, the innocent bus driver was framed for the murder of a 7-year-old child by the police. Exposing the lapses in the investigation and arrests, the Central Bureau of Investigation later revealed a class 11th student of the same school as the accused.
IV. Street Justice – An altered sense of duty
Reserving the idea of the communal colouring of street Justice in the form of mob lynching for a different article, I would like to take on the inherent idea in the concept of street justice which emerges from an altered sense of duty, the emotions cumulated against the failure of the justice system and the frustration out of reasons unknown to sanity.
People getting killed on mere suspicion of child lifting, theft, eating beef, over parking, cow slaughter, in an argument over trifling matters, etc, is a daily event and a norm. In rural areas ‘ rumour’ is a significant factor that fuels such illegal activities.
In August, in Etah in U.P, people viciously assaulted a woman from Himachal Pradesh on the suspicion of child-lifting. In Sultanpur, a woman was beaten to death on the suspicion of being a child-lifter. In Sambhal, a mob brutally thrashed two brothers, Ram Avtar and Ram Bahadur, of which the former died. Police said the brothers were taking Ram Bahadur’s son for treatment in a city hospital when the mob caught them. A video of this incident even surfaced on social media, where Ram Avtar is lying on the floor and pleading with the mob that the child is his nephew. But the mob didn’t stop.
In the Alwar mob lynching, Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer from Nuh district of Haryana, was murdered by a group of 200 cow vigilantes in Alwar, Rajasthan, India. Six others who were with Pehlu Khan were also beaten by the vigilantes according to the reports. Another case in which a mob of villagers attacked the home of 52-year-old Mohammed Akhlaq, killing him, on the suspicion of slaughtering a cow.
The pattern consisting notions of becoming a Judge and executioner, performing every role to achieve instant justice is followed in such cases. A condition of hopelessness caused by the breakdown of rules of conduct, loss of belief and sense of purpose in the society along with a desire to achieve justice can be seen as an analogous definition to ‘anomie’ and as a factor in crime in cases of street justice.
According to Victor Hugo, a French poet, and novelist-
“Being good is easy, what is difficult is being just.”
Justice is a universal idea that is to be served in the purest form. True and pure justice is one that is humble and always on the side of humanity. Any distorted or moulded form of it is injustice; no matter how good and satisfactory it is. To make a lawful society where justice prevails in its purest form, the challenges within a system need to be addressed. The civil society and the administration are posing a similar threat to the idea of the establishment of a lawful society as a counterpart to criminality in society.
Justice, according to Plato, is the quality of the soul. It is the voice of the conscience of man. Reason, courage, temperance, and justice are the four ideal values to be equally followed by individuals and groups. Socrates also points out, in a society, the different classes must be given what is due to them and no single class should be allowed to dominate all the other classes without any restriction.
The justice due must be provided to victims and families legally and within time. It is a responsibility on the part of the criminal justice administration to avoid the illegal delivery of justice in any form. I might add, parenthetically, it is essential to keep a check on the unguided physical tendencies and knowledge which pose a threat to the establishment of a lawful society.
 Om Prakash v. State of Jharkhand, (2012) 12 SCC 72
 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights opened for signature Dec. 16, 1966, art. 6(1), S. Exec. Doc. E, 95-2, at 25 (1978), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, 174 (entered into force Mar. 23, 1976)