A hostile law
As the nation?s collective conscience accuses the police and the courts for not having done their job in the Jessica Lall murder case, the courts and police in turn point fingers at the witnesses who turned hostile.india Updated: Feb 24, 2006 01:46 IST
As the nation’s collective conscience accuses the police and the courts for not having done their job in the Jessica Lall murder case, the courts and police in turn point fingers at the witnesses who turned hostile. We pose two questions here: one, why shouldn’t witnesses sell integrity to protect their own lives or families or to make an extra buck? Two, why should we expect judges to take that extra step to ensure that the truth emerges?
That the witnesses changed their statement is unremarkable. Equally, the average urban citizen is no longer the law-abiding one, conditioned as he is by the inefficacy of the State machinery to ‘do justice’ in all spheres of life. That is the bitter truth. The law of the land seems to endorse this, and that is perhaps why perjury is not a punishable crime. The disappointment with the courts is easier to answer. In the last few years, the high courts and Supreme Court have stepped in to arrest many a social malaise. This judicial activism, clearly, hasn’t trickled down to the lower trial courts. That the Jessica Lall verdict was a judgment waiting to happen had been forecast from the first day the police started tweaking the case. But even if they had wanted to, could the judges have done anything else within their purview? We don’t think so. This issue is what the 2003 Malimath Committee report had explored to amend the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2003. But the suggestions that judges should be free to summon anyone who may throw light on a case was thrown out, as was the case to make the turning of witnesses perjury. Unfortunately, amendments to laws have to be okayed by parliamentarians. That these two paradigm-changing suggestions were rejected reflects the wanting calibre of the sub-committee. The reason given was the ‘fear’ that police corruption would manipulate these amendments! This ‘explanation’ is staggering, considering that existing laws aren’t exactly corruption- or lacunae-proof. The truncated amendment ensured that judges’ hands remained tied and witnesses continued to be legally allowed to change statements.
There could be no better case than the Jessica Lall verdict to show why India desperately needs its criminal laws overhauled. The innocent shouldn’t have to risk life and limb to stick to their statement. Neither should the law protect liars and the corrupt. Will the Jessica Lall case trigger change? We hopes so.