(On delays in justice, revelations about judicial process & more on free speech, role of media & prejudice... + A must watch Video)
Me: (Munching) Mmmmm....What did I tell you ? ! These noodles are the best in this part of the world. And just see how gorgeous the gravy is..... delicious !! ..What are you thinking ?
Avinash: You've put forth elaborate explanations about the law being neither biased nor being slack. But I wonder how you are gonna justify the problem of abysmal speed of disposal of cases by Courts.
Me: As I told you earlier, nothing can justify the malady of delay in disposal of court cases. It's sheer misery to watch years pass by while one awaits justice. But I'll say this much. Before we pass our judgment on the inefficiency of courts for not being able to expeditiously dispose of the cases, I beseech you to consider certain statistics.
Avinash: I'm all ears.
Me: Have you heard of something called the Judge - Population ratio. It denotes the number of judges per million (ten lakh) people in a country. In the USA (I'm giving the example of USA because it has an enviable judicial system) they have ten times more judges per million people, than in India. The Indian Law Commission in its 120th Report recommended that the strength of judges per million population should be increased from 10.5 to 50 judges. The present judge strength in India is 14 judges per million (ten lakh) population (approx.). From these figures it is not difficult to understand the cause behind the present alarming rate of pendency of cases. With regard to subordinate judiciary, the Supreme Court had, in its judgement of 21st March, 2002, in All India Judges’ Association & Ors Vs. Union of India & Ors., also directed that increase in the Judge strength from 10.5 per 10 lakh people to 50 judges per 10 lakh people should be effected and implemented within a period of five years in a phased manner to be determined and directed by the Union Ministry of Law. You'll be surprised to know that less than 1 % is allocated to the judiciary in the State and Central Budget every year. In the Ninth Five year plan the Govt. set aside Rs 385 Crore for the judiciary and that works out to about 0.078 % of total expenditure plan. In the Tenth Five Year Plan, the allocation though increased to Rs 700 Crore, it still works out to a shocking 0.071 % of total plan expenditure. Its a complete mockery that the very institution which is often quoted as the last hope for the exploited and the injured, is so neglected. One of my friends recently pointed out to me his utter wonder, after becoming aware of these figures, at as to how the judiciary functions at all.
The number of our judges needs to be urgently increased by considerable fold. No nation which aspires to have a sound and corruption free governance can claim to achieve it without strengthening its judicial system first.
Avinash: Are you telling me that Judges have no role in causing the delay ?
Me: Do you know that judges are provided yardsticks / outturn criteria for doing their judicial work, by their respective superior Courts. The Hon'ble High Courts, all over the country, in whom vests the power of superintendence over the subordinate Courts under Article 235 of our Constitution, keenly supervise the achievement of prescribed yardsticks by the subordinate Courts. If you go around checking, you'll find that in 99 % of cases, these yardsticks are achieved. The statistics are regularly forwarded to the respective High Courts and through them to the Supreme Court for review of performances of the concerned judges. Please be assured that Judges of our Courts are neither lax nor negligent towards the issue of judicial delay.
I also do not think that I've to remind you, only of course if you are conversant with recent developments, that the Hon'ble Supreme Court has in consultation with the Chief Justices of various High Courts, initiated mega drives for disposal of long pending cases by Courts of our country as well as cases involving petty offences which consume disproportionate time and infrastructure of the judiciary. If you check the statistics, you'll agree that these drives are yielding promising results. So the next time you think that judges in any manner also contribute to the delay in adjudication, think again.
Avinash: I do not deny what you just said, but what you've got to say about the popular perception that the highy & the mighty never get punished in Courts while the poor and ill afforded suffer.
Me: Recently one of my friends, raised this vital issue during a discussion regarding media activism and its effect on Court cases. She made this thought provoking argument that though she's not entirely for an activist media, she nevertheless feels that many a times a public outrage through media does ensure that justice is done. She quoted the examples of the Manu Sharma case and the recent matter involving N.D. Tiwari. She probed whether the outcomes which occurred in these cases would have been possible without a media outcry be it over Jessical Lal's case or the N.D. Tiwari case.
Avinash: Don't you think she's right ?
Me: Partially. As far as Manu Sharma's case is concerned, the judiciary had no motive to willfully disregard Jessica Lal's cause., It had nothing to gain by ignoring it. While the ordinary practice is that Courts do not look into matters until those are brought before it, still the Delhi High Court took suo motu cognizance of Jessica Lal's case after Manu Sharma was acquitted by the Sessions Court. Nobody could have questioned the High Court if it would have decided not to do so, but still it did. I agree that media did play an important role in it, but one good act does not give the license to commit two sins. As far as the N.D. Tiwari case is concerned, let me tell you, it does not require so much hue and cry by the media to influence a Court. Hue and cry cannot induce a Judge to take up or not take up somebody's case. There's a very simple reason for it. Unlike MLAs / MPs, IAS officers etc, a Judge has nothing to gain by garnering mass support. For instance an MP can do a particular act in such circumstances since he'd be worried for votes, but a Judge isn't. His career is not determined by taking up popular causes. So you see, if the media was so concerned, then instead of raising commotion if one good journalist would have asked the lawyer of the other side to file a petition praying for DNA test of Tiwari, the Judge would have anyhow allowed it, on merits of his arguments in Court.
Avinash: I do agree with the reality that judges have no interest in becoming popular, hence they have nothing to be influenced about for taking up or not taking up a cause. But can you completely rule out corruption in the judiciary ? The general cynicism against judiciary is reinforced when it is often seen that all big guns are let off scott free ; that is why public approaches the media & also takes delight when big names are dragged in the mud--this could certainly lead to innocent names being tarnished,but the 'aam aadmi' too suffers on countless fronts. Its loathsome to see a criminal going unpunished because of his power,prestige, or connections. Apart from this, it is incumbent upon the judge to not be swayed by any outside interference.
Me: Well...you have perfectly identified the symptoms but erred in diagnosing the disease.
Avinash : As in..?
Me: As in, when you say that a judge is not supposed to be influenced by external opinions, you're absolutely correct. But nobody says that due to media sensationalism or media trials, the Judges get influenced. There's no question of a Judge being influenced by populist opinions for the simple reason, as I said earlier. that he'd achieve nothing by saving the popular or punishing the despised. Rather, his verdict, if not based on sound legal principles will surely get overruled in higher Courts.
Avinash: Then what is the harm of media activism ?
Me: I'll tell you.
An accused, if prejudged to be guilty by the members of the society at large due to media outcry or media caused sensationalism, is never going to have a peaceful life. He'll get punished much before he's proved to be guilty. Then all his efforts to establish his innocence would have become meaningless. Some may argue that he's guilty that's why people are against him even before Court' verdict.
Let us for once, think again. Can we really claim to know the truth, when all we see is a virally multiplied antagonism against a particular person on the basis of media reports. Aren't we risking the truth when we blindly take a side, on the basis of unaccounted media reports, when we claim ourselves to be rational and fair. Do we really know the truth sitting on our beds and couch ?
As a result of such mindless campaign against an accused, it may so happen, that even if he's declared innocent by Court, people will think that he got away with his crime because he's rich and has connections, or because of lack of evidence. But the stigma will remain forever. There're many such examples. Just imagine, if tomorrow, the Talwars, the parents of Aarushi are genuinely adjudged as innocent and all Courts, up to the Supreme Court, find them not guilty, would we be able to compensate for all what we have inflicted on them, thanks to the mindless broadcasting choices of the media, during the recent past, or for what is yet to be inflicted on them.
(Just note down this link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpQNfLdAyg8 ) and watch this video on Youtube. Its a bit old. Though I myself don't subscribe to a few things spoken here and there in the video, by and large this video will clarify further what I've tried to say. And the man speaking is an idol for many. Now there's one thing you must remember while watching the video. I'm not showing it to you because I support or oppose the outcome of any legal case or the conduct of any particular person mentioned in the video, but because I want to you to be informed about certain fundamental principles relating to the larger issues about which we just discussed.)
Another thing. Just imagine, as someone rightly pointed out, the plight of a man who believes in or has evidence about the innocence of an accused. It becomes a Herculean challenge for him to fight the unwarranted prejudice hanging in the air against that accused and still go and give evidence in his favour., when the whole world thinks him to be guilty. There's every likelihood that the witness may himself face aspersions or serious criticism. This in turn, may deter him from going and giving evidence in the first place. And the net result will be that the truth may never come out. Such are the dangers of prejudice. That's why I'm saying that all this is avoidable mess, only if we do not indulge in & stop supporting unnecessary media hype about any given case which is yet to see its day in the Court or which is already in the Court files.
Avinash: You've a point.
Me: Sometimes it is said that unless there's outcry, the Courts will not take the matter seriously. There cannot be a more baseless statement than this. Every day Courts hear heart wrenching murder cases, molestation cases, rape cases, cheating cases, cases of extortion and torture. Every case is important and vital in its own way for the Courts. Let them deal with those for they are the best suited to do so. What in my humble opinion would be more appropriate, instead of raising an outcry, would be to gather all kinds of legal support and hire the services of good lawyers who'll do all that we think is necessary, in the Courts, for obtaining justice for the victim. After all, its the Court not the media or anybody else, that'll hand out a final verdict.
Having said this, the outcry may do good in one front, that is , it may caution the the various agents of the Govt., starting from a Constable to a Home Minister, that no callousness shall be tolerated by the public, so far as holding an effective and expeditious inquiry or investigation into the concerned problem is concerned. This will obviously lead to a fair and speedy investigation and collection of evidence to be presented before the Courts for a proper judicial scrutiny of the matter.
Avinash: What about the erosion of faith in judiciary when criminals go scott free due to their power, prestige or connection ?
Me: You're absolutely correct when you say that it's wrong when criminals go unpunished. But what's the real reason behind it ? Its not that Courts love letting go of criminals. Hence its necessary that you must understand certain nuances of the legal process. Even though you may know this, I'd still like to briefly re - apprise you of those facts in general.
Avinash: Go on.
Me: The law is set into motion when an FIR / complaint is registered by the Police.
The Police then goes to do investigation. During investigation it collects proofs, statements of witnesses etc that indicate the commission of the alleged offence.
Then on the combined basis of the complaint and the investigation it arraigns the suspects as accused persons and forwards them to the nearest Court of law, or
The Police then submits a final report ( in case it doesn't get any clue or evidence of the crime ) or in other cases submits charge sheet alongwith other documents.
If final report is submitted, the complainant can protest against it and pray to the Court to still take cognizance of the offences despite the Police's final report. If the Court doesn't then the case is closed, but if it does listen to the complainant then it conducts its own inquiry and proceeds likewise.
When the accused is brought before the Couirt or he himself appears before it, the allegations are read over and explained to the him and he's asked whether he admits his guilt or not.
If he does then the Judge decides his punishment, but if he doesn't then trial commences.
The Court then summons the witnesses named by the Poilice who had stated during the investigations about to the guilt of the accused.
Now depending upon the dimensions of a particular case, various categories of documents, witnesses, expert witnesses etc. are summoned by the Court for ultimate analysis of the truth.
After this process is over, the accused is given an opportunity to adduce evidence in his favour to rebut the prosecution evidence. Ultimately after hearing the final arguments the judge pronounces his judgment.
Now you think for yourself, as to how many different persons have a role to play in deciding the fate of a case. Police, witnesses, scientific experts, documents etc. Unless each of them is pristine and honest in his task, truth is bound to remain buried. Therefore the next time when you think that a Court has set free a guilty, think again, what actually set him free.