The legal process is long and arduous. But it is essential to provide justice | Analysis
The ends may justify the means for many. But it opens up the door for vigilante justice and can harm innocentsUpdated: Dec 09, 2019 21:01 IST
The rape and murder of the young veterinarian professional on November 27 shook the conscience of the people and triggered outrage across the country. The investigation was almost instantaneously underway and four suspects were arrested by the police on November 29 and produced before a magistrate by the next day. The police has claimed that when, on December 6 at 3 am, it took the accused to the crime site for reconstructing the events of the rape-murder, they tried to overpower the police and flee the site, firing at the police party. In retaliation, the police fired back at them in self-defence and killed all four accused. This killing of the four accused persons has evoked sharp reactions from the public, one praising the police action and the other condemning it. Is the end of justice met?
In a modern civilised society, justice entails protecting rights and punishing wrongs by following the due process of law. The Constitution of India is the fundamental law from where all such legal processes emanate. Article 21 of the Constitution provides that a person cannot be deprived of his life or liberty, except by the procedure established by law. Capital punishment has been prescribed for certain offences under the Indian Penal Code and some other statutes for various heinous crimes. However, before adjudicating on a death penalty, exhaustive procedures have to be followed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the crime has in fact been committed by the person being deprived his or her life.
Admittedly the prescribed criminal procedure is long and process-driven. It requires a detailed police investigation followed by an elaborate trial before the court. Sentencing comes only after a person is found guilty by the court. In rarest of rare cases, capital punishment is imposed by the courts as retribution against the convict, and as a deterrent so that citizens in the future do not commit a similar crime. Is it then for the better, or in fact, for the worse, that the Hyderabad rape-murder and encounter case skipped all these steps?
The case was at a nascent stage of the investigation when the encounter took place. There was no firm factual finding, pointing towards the perpetration of the heinous crime by these persons. Even if it is assumed that the police had evidence in its possession proving guilt of these persons, could they have been deprived of the procedure established by law before they were shot dead? The plea of self-defence propounded by the police appears over stretched as there appears to be no attempt to overpower these accused persons before fatally wounding them. Even without doubting the veracity of this police account, it is clear that disproportionate force was used by the police. The police could have and should have employed only proportionate force which would have resulted in an opportunity to the accused to face the full trial.
Use of such fatal force by the police, though applauded as a heroic act on the part of the police rendering so-called instantaneous justice, has numerous grave ramifications. One, it encourages extra-judicial and spot delivery of “justice” as per the subjective satisfaction of the person in-charge, which is comparable to a mob-lynching.
Second, it gives leeway to unscrupulous police personnel to cover up their inefficiency to prevent occurrence of such incidents and effectively resolve a crime by colouring their action as the instant delivery of “justice”. The pressure of quick resolution of crime often leads to the police to act irrationally and use its force in a manner contrary to the established legal rules. One recent glaring example of such is the Ryan International School Murder case where the Gurgaon Police wrongly framed a bus conductor working for the school.
Third, the likelihood of the victims in such police action are the unprivileged and poor sections of the society. Fourth, as the process has not been followed, it leaves the lacuna about whether crime was indeed committed by these accused, or others, because the police have “solved and closed” the case. The Apex Court, in 2016, in Extra Judicial Execution Victim Families Association v. Union of India, noted that the courts cannot accept these extra judicial killings or “administrative liquidation”, caused by the State, since it is destructive of the rule of law and plainly unconstitutional.
Without doubt, because of the excruciatingly long process of criminal justice system and also its 30% success rate in conviction, the common citizen of this country is enraged and is always in the look for a swift justice delivery, even if the means for the same were extra-legal. It is therefore becoming increasingly pertinent, especially given the access to, and reach of social media, to protect the sanctity of the legal process. The ends may justify the means in the eyes of an indignant citizen, but consolidating the powers of investigative forces, the judiciary and the penal forces into a handful of individuals handicaps the collective effectiveness and accuracy of the justice system. It also opens the Pandora’s box of vigilante justice, where there is no accountability and innocents are more often hurt than protected by those who claim to know what’s right. A quote by Mahatma Gandhi accurately sums up the current dilemma — “the ends do not justify the means”.