Miscarriage of Justice: A sneak peek into the Wrongful Prosecution in India
This article titled ‘Miscarriage of Justice: A sneak peek into the Wrongful Prosecution in India.’ is written by Ritik Shah and discusses the concept of the miscarriage of justice. I. The Reel Life Story and its impact As a teenager, one of my neighbours, a big fan of Amitabh Bachchan, forced me to watch Andhaa Kanoon, a 1983 Bollywood… Read More »
This article titled ‘Miscarriage of Justice: A sneak peek into the Wrongful Prosecution in India.’ is written by Ritik Shah and discusses the concept of the miscarriage of justice.
I. The Reel Life Story and its impact
As a teenager, one of my neighbours, a big fan of Amitabh Bachchan, forced me to watch Andhaa Kanoon, a 1983 Bollywood movie starring both Amitabh Bachchan and Rajnikant. Within a few minutes of the movie, I was thrilled by the plot and glued my eyes towards the screen.
A movie full of action, drama, suspense and definitely mind-blowing acting by the G.O.A.T of cinemas was no less than a full pack of entertainment for me. Recently, while discussing with one of my friends, I realised that I missed out on many more important aspects of the movie, far beyond the entertainment part, which I experienced as a teenager.
I rushed back home and put my headphones on to rewatch the movie where Amitabh Bachchan was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment for killing Amrish Puri, who was actually alive and when he came out of jail, he found Mr. Puri living a happy and lavish life.
During his imprisonment, Amitabh’s wife had also killed herself along with her daughter and the plot revolves around Amitabh Bachchan with the help of Rajnikant taking revenge from Amrish Puri and finally killing him in the same court, in front of the same judge who convicted Sr. Bachchan earlier.
However, this time the story brought out a plethora of emotions along with anger and empathy at the same time. While the empathy was for Mr. Bachchan, who suffered a lot of mental trauma, emotional imbalance, societal hatred, lost his family, wasted 20 years of his life in jail and became a victim of wrongful prosecution for doing absolutely no crime, the anger was definitely for the flaws in our judicial system, a flaw which till date is persistent and has destroyed many innocent lives and families.
II. Wrongful Prosecution: Real-Life Examples
Wrongful Prosecution is a legal proceeding where the police or prosecution engages in some form of misconduct in an investigation resulting in a pre-judicial outcome, prosecuting a person who is not guilty of the offence. These innocent people become the victims of abuse of power, corruption, negligence, defect in the investigation process, lack of judicial awareness, absence of proper legal aid and miscarriage of justice.
Recently, a movie based on the life of former ISRO scientist Nambi Narayan who was accused of espionage again brought the concept of malicious and wrongful prosecution into the limelight. In February 2021, while granting bail to comedian Munawar Faruqui, Supreme Court said that the allegation against him was vague and observed that police had not complied with the lawful procedure prescribed under section 41 CRPC before arresting the comedian.
In 2019, Dr. Kafeel Khan who was charged under UAPA was released from jail by Allahabad High Court after spending 8 months in jail. In 2009, Syed Hasif Haider was acquitted after spending 8 years in jail on rioting and murder charges. In 2019, Assam’s Madhubala Mondal was exonerated after surviving 3 years in jail as a result of mistaken identity.
In July 2019, Ali Mohammad Bhat, a Kashmiri weaver, was acquitted in the Lajpat Nagar blasts case after spending 23 years in jail. A 43-year-old man, Vishnu Tiwari got acquittal in March 2020 by the Allahabad High Court after spending around 20 years in jail. A Surat court in 2020, held for acquittal of 127 men who were incarcerated for 20 years under the charges of terrorism. Unfortunately, out of 127, only 122 could see their freedom as 5 of them died during the trial.
The sufferings of these victims were not enough that now with technological development and increase in the use of social media amongst the Indian masses, the victims have also to face media trials putting a lifetime grave and deep mark on their social life.
In October 2019, Saravjeet Singh, who was labelled as “pervert” and “eve teaser” by various media channels and social media pages, after a DU student accused him of harassing her at a traffic signal in a 2015 Facebook post, was acquitted of all charges. Within these years, he struggled to keep his job and attended court proceedings along with facing Cyberbullying, Trolls and Abuses from social media.
Another example of media trials is the famous case of Tablighi Jamaat where few foreign Muslims were maliciously prosecuted for spreading Corona Virus in India and were labelled as “Corona Bombs” by some media channels, got acquittal by a Delhi court clearly proving their innocence but the mental trauma they had to face in a foreign country was irreparable.
III. Legal Framework
India Criminal justice system follows the principle that “Let Hundred guilty be acquitted but one innocent should not be convicted”.
The assurance that no person will be deprived of its personal liberty is the pillar of democracy and equitable justice in India but the unlawful detention or wrongful prosecution infringes Fundamental Right to Freedom enshrined in our constitution.
Article 21 of the constitution confers on everyone, Fundamental Right of Life and Personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. In Maneka Gandhi v. UOI[i], the Apex Court widely interpreted Article 21 and observed that the procedure envisaged under Article 21 must be “right, just and fair” and not “arbitrary, fanciful or oppressive”.
This wider interpretation of Article 21 is the basis of future judgments regarding the compensation of victims (which we will deal with in a later part). The malicious prosecution infringes both Article 21 (Right to life and personal liberty) as well as Article 22 (Protection against illegal detention) of the Constitution of India.
After the early 1980s, the concept of Public Interest Litigation also became a new mode of seeking justice, however, the only hurdle is the pending cases in courts. According to data by the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), 26.55% (26.462) of appeals against convictions have been pending before the High Courts of the country for more than ten years.
In the first week of October, even Supreme Court while deciding an appeal, observed that delay on the part of High Courts in deciding appeals of conviction or bail pleas amounts to curtailment of liberty of prisoners.
Wrongful Prosecution/ Confinement is a paradox to the basic Human Rights of an individual. The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1963, empowers the National Human Rights Commission to inquire into instances of illegal detentions, wrongful convictions, malicious prosecution and other human rights violations.
After conducting an inquiry, NHRC can recommend state government pay compensation and initiate proceedings against guilty officials. However, these recommendations are not binding on the State government.
Further, India is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which is a torchbearer of Civil and Political Rights in the International Legal System. All the signatories are required to take steps to ensure the Right to Compensation for wrongful prosecution but while ratifying, India declared that under the Indian legal system there is no enforceable Right to Compensation for victims of wrongful prosecution and detention.
IV. Judicial Proceedings
Although there is no fundamental or statutory right of compensation to victims of Wrongful Prosecution, the wider interpretation of Article 21 along with the fundamental principle of equity, justice and good conscience has served as the basis for many judicial decisions granting compensation to the victims.
Article 32 and 226 have also played a major role in granting justice to the victims whose basic human rights have been thrown into the trash by the state officials.
In Rudul Shah v. State of Bihar[ii], Supreme Court for the first time awarded the compensation of Rs. 30,000 to the petitioner who was unlawfully detained in prison for 14 years.
In the case of Bhim Singh, MLA v. State of J & K & Ors[iii], a compensation of Rs 50,000 was awarded to an MLA who was detained illegally and was prevented from attending a session of the Legislative Assembly.
In Ram Lakhan Singh v. State of UP[iv], the court-ordered compensation of Rs 10 Lakhs to the victim who was wrongfully accused of 10 years and spent 11 days in jail.
In S. Nambi Narayan v. State of Kerela[v], SC awarded Rs 50 Lakhs as compensation to a former ISRO Scientist after a long legal battle of 24 years who was wrongfully accused of espionage.
However, the compensation granted has always been the discretion of the court and in many cases, courts have tried to limit the compensation benefits.
In Sube Singh v. the State of Haryana[vi], Supreme Court did not grant any compensation to the petitioner who alleged illegal detention, custodial torture and harassment, as no clear evidence was available, observing that compensation need not be awarded in all cases of violation of Article 21.
In Adambhai Sulemenbhai Ajmeri & Ors v. State of Gujarat (the Akshardham Temple case)[vii], although the Apex Court rebuked the investigating authorities for alleging an innocent person for a terror attack which led to his imprisonment for almost 10 years, yet SC refused to entertain his compensation plea on the ground that acquittal of the victims by the Court would not automatically give them the right to compensation and would set a ‘dangerous precedent’ if the compensation was allowed.
Delhi High Court in Babloo Chauhan @ Dabloo v. Government of NCT of Delhi[viii], requested the Law Commission of India to make a legislative framework for miscarriage of justice due to wrongful prosecution.
In 2018, The Law Commission of India, in its 277th report titled “Wrongful Prosecution (Miscarriage of Justice): Legal Remedies”, deliberated the need for legislation that creates a statutory obligation on the state to compensate the victim for wrongful prosecution, incarceration and convictions.
However, the recommendations have not yet taken the shape of an Act. In March 2021, a PIL has been filed by BJP leader and lawyer, Ashwini Upadhyay, urging the Supreme Court to frame guidelines for compensation to victims of wrongful prosecution, using its constitutional power and direct Centre and state government to implement the recommendation made by the law commission.
India is a welfare state and with ‘Rule of Law’ being the Law of Land, the state is bound to take appropriate measures for the protection of innocent and helpless people, who forms the soul of a democratic society.
Even though the lost years of victims cannot be restored nor any sort of monetary compensation can recover them completely from the haunted sights of jail, however, the state should assist these innocent people in the process of recovering from the mental trauma.
A rehabilitation programme specially designed for the victims of Wrongful Prosecution should be initiated with the help of NGOs working in this sector. Following the recommendation of the Law Commission Report, the legislature should work towards creating a statutory right of compensation and providing other social benefits to these individuals.
Laws should also be made to censor the media trials which convict the accused even before the judiciary does and demolish the reputation of an innocent and respected citizen of the country. Right to Speedy Trial should be enforced effectively with filling up of judicial vacancies, less no. of adjournments and better socio-legal infrastructure. NGOs should also step forward to provide legal assistance to poor and marginalised people who fear to claim justice as their fundamental right.
Right from the British era, wrongful prosecution has succeeded in destroying many lives, many families and even if the court is convinced by their innocence, there is still a lifelong battle of convincing the society. Even after years of release, the victims have to face psychological, emotional, social and financial consequences.
The hardships and austerity in jail premises also result in lifelong physical ailments which they have to nurse for their lifetime. It is high time, the state should empathise with these wrongfully prosecuted victims and work towards protecting its idea of a Socialistic, Democratic and Welfare State.
[i] 1978 AIR 597
[ii] 1983 AIR 1086
[iii] (1985) 4 SCC 677
[iv] 2015 16 SCC 715
[v] WP(C). No. 30918 of 2012
[vi] (2006) 3 SCC 178
[vii] (2014) 2 MLJ (Crl.) 670 (SC)
[viii] 247 (2018) DLT 31