- Speedy trials alone can undo the sense of injustice caused by acquittal after years in jail
The slow and unfair justice system of India
- The wholesale acquittal of all 10 persons arrested in connection with a blast at the Police Task Force office at Begumpet in Hyderabad in 2005 must occasion serious introspection on the prevailing gulf between crime and justice.
- Acquittals in such cases carry a sense of injustice, especially when they are based on absence of evidence and not merely because there is some doubt about culpability.
- It seems unfair to those who feel the accused got away; but more often, the injustice flows from the loss suffered by the accused who might have spent years in prison, possibly in the prime of youth.
- Incidents have occurred in recent times, when people get arrested for alleged involvement in terrorism incidents and then being released after years in prison.
- Examples include Nisar-ud-din Ahmad, who spent 23 years in prison in connection with several train blasts, before the Supreme Court ordered his release last year.
- Aligarh Muslim University research scholar Gulzar Mohammed Wani spent 16 years in jail on suspicion of being a member of the Hizbul Mujahideen before he was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
- Release from one or two charges cannot be adequate compensation for the loss of liberty and the trauma of the trial.
- A key aspect of these cases is that they were serious crimes warranting credible investigation and vigorous prosecution.
- The outcome, often acquittal for want of evidence, reflects poorly on the investigating machinery as well as the judicial system.
- In December 2016, the National Investigation Agency managed to get Yasin Bhatkal, founder of the Indian Mujahideen, and four others convicted and sentenced to death in connection with the 2013 twin blasts in Hyderabad, but it is a rare instance of a successful prosecution and a relatively quick trial.
Fairness in the system is necessary
- Fairness in the administration of criminal justice is not secured by the final outcome alone, but must be built into the process of determining whether a person is guilty or not.
- Courts tend to refute bail in cases related to terrorism, but do not show a matching commitment to a swift trial.
- Delayed trials weaken the prosecution’s case. Witnesses tend to forget crucial details or lack the resolve to depose carefully.
- Every person acquitted may not be innocent; equally, it cannot be said that people are going scot-free after committing grave offences.
- Individuals come under suspicion for their links with organizations, but are acquitted by courts after the prosecution fails to link them to any particular crime.
- One way of addressing the problem of prolonged custody and careless prosecution is to make it a matter of policy to have a quick and time-bound trial at least in serious cases involving acts of terrorism and those under special laws. Justice, if it has to be substantive, cannot be in slow motion.