Dowry death in India is one of the biggest crimes against women. This is one of the reasons for female infanticide because as the child is a girl, the parents are brought under an obligation to give lot-of dowry for her marriage. A 2017 report established that India is the second most unsafe place for women. As far the present case is concerned, it relates to dowry death of a woman by her husband.
The facts of the case are as follows: Anil Kumar, sole appellant was charged under section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code 1860 and 304-B IPC, alternatively under section 302 IPC and section 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 for murder of his wife Smt. Tara Devi.
On conclusion of trial, appellant Anil Kumar was convicted under section 302 IPC and 498-A IPC. However, he was acquitted by the trial Judge under Section 304-B IPC and Section 4 D.P. Act. Appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 10,000/- with default stipulations under section 302 IPC and three years rigorous imprisonment
The main issue in the case was: Whether or not the fact that the defendant had no lawyer was a violation of natural justice.
Contentions of the appellant
Learned Amicus Curiae pointed out a fatal flaw in the trial of appellant Anil Kumar. He submitted that as many as eight witnesses namely; father of the deceased, uncle of deceased ,mother of the deceased, doctors, sub inspector, investigation officer were produced by the prosecution but not a single witness was cross-examined by any counsel for defence or by accused himself.
The gravity of offences and possible punishments with which the appellant was to be sentenced are relevant and significant issues to be kept in mind. The appellant was denied a due process of law and trial held against him was contrary to procedures prescribed under the provisions of Cr. P.C., as appellant was not provided any legal assistance in the present case.
It was further pointed out that Article 39-A of the Constitution of India provides that State shall provide free legal aid. It is not an empty formality. The State is obliged to provide effective legal assistance. A bare perusal of aforesaid provisions would reveal that the provision of legal assistance is not mere an empty formality. It is mandatory for the State as well as trial court to provide legal assistance to the accused of criminal offence. The purpose of providing free and competent legal aid to the unrepresented accused person is to make sure that he or she gets fair trial.
Summary of court decision and judgement
The learned Amicus Curiae pointed out that the appellant had already spent more than seven years in jail and the ‘de-novo’ trial may take some more time, therefore, he requested that appellant be enlarged on bail. This request was accepted by the Hon’ble 2-judge bench and a bail was granted.
Today, unfortunately, in our country the poor are priced out of the judicial system with the result that they are losing faith in the capacity of our legal system to bring about changes in their living conditions and to deliver justice to them. The poor in their contact with the legal system has always been on the wrong side of the line. They have always come across “law for the poor” rather than “law of the poor”. The law has regarded by them as something mysterious and forbidding–always taking something away from them and not as a positive and constructive social device for changing the social-economic order and improving their life conditions by conferring rights and benefits on them. The result is that the legal system has lost its credibility for the weaker sections of the community. It is, therefore, necessary that we should inject equal justice into legality and that can be done only by dynamic and activist schemes of legal services. ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ when he does not get any chances to prove his innocence which means completely inaccessible to justice it shows. This is a basic duty of the State and judiciary to provide a lawyer to poor irrespective of prosecution or defendant.
Free legal service is an inalienable element of ‘reasonable, fair, and just’ procedure for without it a person suffering from economic or other disabilities would be deprived of the opportunity for securing justice. The right to free legal services is, therefore, clearly an essential ingredient of ‘reasonable, fair and just’ procedure for a person accused of an offence and it must be held implicit in the guarantee of Article 21. This is a constitutional right of every accused person who is unable to engage a lawyer and secure legal services on account of reasons such as poverty, indigence or incommunicado situation and the State is under a mandate to provide a lawyer to an accused person if the circumstances of the case and the needs of justice so require, provided of course the accused person does not object to the provision of such lawyer. Even though he is a criminal or accused until he is proven of his guilt, he cannot be punished.
Hussain Ara Khatoon & others v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar (1980) 1 SCC 98.