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Justice for Jessica possible

It is certainly possible, just as it has now been done in the Best Bakery case, writes Prashant Bhushan.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2006 15:03 IST

The failure of justice in the Jessica Lall case has stirred up the conscience of the middle class of this country as perhaps nothing else in the recent past.

It has made many people talk about the capacity of the criminal justice system of the country to deliver justice.

The fact that the system has been corrupted to the extent that it is virtually incapable of delivering justice should have been clear from not just the failure of several high profile murder cases earlier, but also from the fact that virtually all influential persons charged of corruption in the last 20 years are roaming around scot free.

Moreover, though there are innumerable cases of custodial violence and even death reported every day, do we recall a single policeman convicted for this?

The unfortunate fact is that for the vast majority of people in this country, the courts do not exist, unable as they are to access the judicial system which is expensive, prolix and corrupt.

Can justice still be done in the Jessica Lall case and if so how?

It is certainly possible, just as it has now been done in the Best Bakery case.

The Courts have all the powers for ordering retrial and even reinvestigation.

However to determine the appropriate course of action, one would need to study the entire record of investigation, trial and judgement.

From what has appeared, it seems that one would need a reinvestigation followed by a retrial.

What is more important however is to identify and punish the police officers who are found responsible for the shoddy/dishonest investigation and also the witnesses who have turned hostile for dishonest reasons (like Zahira Sheikh), and also identify and punish persons who have threatened and intimidated witnesses.

It appears clear that both the investigation and the trial have been messed up in this case.

With a reinvestigation followed by a retrial, many who witnessed the shooting should at least now be willing to come forward as witnesses in the case.

And it is equally important to ensure that all this is done expeditiously.

One of the problems with a lengthy investigation and trial is that it gives a greater opportunity to in fluential accused to corrupt the investigation and trial.

Also, the victims lose heart, get frustrated and give up if the investigation/trial goes on for too long.

But even if this public outcry can ensure justice in Jessica Lal's case, will it change the system.

And is the system to blame? After all the system has every provision for dealing with hostile witness, for reinvestigation and for retrial. But they are not used by people who are not interested in delivering justice.

We keep hearing that we need a witness protection programme. But how many witnesses turn hostile due to lack of protection? And who will protect them?

The same police which in most cases teams up with the accused to turn the witness hostile.

So is the solution to overhaul and perhaps replace the colonial police in the country which a High Court judge had a long time back characterised as the biggest organised criminal force in the country? I am afraid that even that would not solve the problem.

The problem today is that our entire ruling establishment has been so thoroughly corrupted that each limb of it is amenable to being deflected by money or influence.

White collar criminals are today running this country. Unfortunately, white collar criminals-businessmen who are flouting every law in the country, while stopping short of physical violence are still honoured and feted in the country.

Unless we are willing to go after them, I am afraid that we will not be able to stop the subversion of the judicial system in the country.

(Prashant Bhushan is an eminent Supreme Court lawyer)