Victims and the Criminal Justice System in India: Need for a Model Shift in the Justice System

Surbhit Nandan[1]

 “Mankind censure injustice fearing that they may be the victims of it, and not because they shrink from committing it” -Plato

“If we look to the history of crime and punishment in the entire civilized world, it discloses a gradually increasing alarm with the treatment of the criminal, and a factual black out of attention to the conditions of the victim.  Before the mid-twentieth century, it has been observed that for more than thousand years, the organisation of the justice had ignored the victim of crime in our society.”[2] The echoes of this nature can be heard possibly more often today than it was heard ever before, factor to a course, which is totally new to the criminal justice systems of developing countries like India.

Throughout the globe it had been observed in different countries that victims of crime are sheltered, helped and compensated by proper laws and acts. However, in India the victims of crime play only a minor role in the criminal justice process.

Our system and our regulation says hundred guilty can be discharged but not a single blameless should be penalised. It might be followed but when we go and look into the society, we can easily have observed that many people turn out to be a victim of a crime which is not committed by him but by someone else and they suffer as a victim and it’s not their fault. It cannot be denied that the crime affects the victim along with its family and at the similar time it also affects the society. Overall, victims felt less safe than non-victims.

“So slow is justice in its way Beset by more than customary clogs going to law in these expensive days is much the same as going to dogs” -Willock

A criminal justice system is something where society first defines what will constitute a crime and then recognises the suspect, tries him, and if the crime done by him is established than convicts him and penalises him.[3]

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The one of the major sectors of public administration is the criminal justice administration, which is generally consist of three principal machineries, viz., law enforcement agency (i.e., police); judiciary (i.e., adjudication); and correctional institutions. (i.e., jails, prisons, probation and parole). In a criminal justice system, these separate agencies function together, both by following the rule of law and as the basic means of preserving the rule of law inside society. Its success or failure decides the destiny of collective development.[4]

It is observed in our criminal justice system that the one who is the victim and who put the law in motion are generally the forgotten people. The accused has been granted certain rights and privileges, so as to make sure that innocents are not victimized by the criminal justice delivery system.[5] These rights of the accused person or the convicted person are secured by the constitution as well as numerous other statutory provisions. It leads to the gross disregard of the victims need and interest.

While emphasising the indifference of our criminal justice system Krishna Iyer, J. in case of Rattan Singh v. State of Punjab[6] rightly commented that, “it is the weakness of our criminal justice system that victims of crimes do not invite the attention of law. In fact, the victim compensation is still the fading point of our criminal law.”

Indian criminal justice system is not something originated in India but it was adopted from the British model which specifically states the role, powers and functions of the three bodies of government in our Indian justice system. The judiciary is sovereign and there is no binding force on judiciary in India. In our criminal justice system, the victims have no rights, and the state commences the full obligation to prosecute and punish the lawbreakers by considering the victims as ordinary observers.

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A committee was formed on 24 November 2000 to reform the Criminal Justice System and to study measures for restoring the criminal justice system. One of the aims of the committee was “to recommend ways and means of evolving collaboration among the judiciary, the prosecution and the police to bring back the confidence of the public in the criminal justice system”. The Committee made the following recommendations by taking into consideration of the UK Report of 2001:

  1. The legal representative of a dead victim should be added as a party to criminal matters.
  2. The victim may be made a party to support the court in determining truth.
  3. The victim can participate in the investigation of his case.
  4. The victim should have the right to be represented by a lawyer.
  5. The victim should have a right to prefer an appeal against any adverse order passed by the trial court.

In order to provide assistance to victims, there are number of modifications required in the Indian legal system. The Constitution of India, Indian Evidence Act, India Penal Code, and at last Criminal Procedure Code 1973 is the main four criminal legislations in India which deliver justice to victim.

In the present era of victimological study, there is a significant interest in the study of effect of crime on victims and methods to support them. As we see in the United States, Europe and all the other developed countries, in India also similarly, the Government of India along with the State Governments should sanction special legislations for victims of crime, as the prevailing provisions in the criminal laws are not enough. Justice V. S. Malimath headed a committee and shows a ray of hope and recommended some reforms in our criminal justice system. The system should be changed to victim justice from criminal justice but the victim justice system should be taken as complementary not as contradictory to the criminal justice system.

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[1] Student.

[2] Michael Fooner, Victim Induced Criminality, 153 Science (1966).

[3] Roshun Thomas, Administration of Criminal Justice in Ancient India, 3 Journal of Indian Legal Thought, 159 (2005).

[4] Mir Mehraj-ud-din, Crime and Criminal Justice System in India 56 (Deep and Deep Publications, 1984).

[5] P.V. Reddy, Role of Victims, 18 Student Bar Review NLSI, Bangalore, 4, (2006).

[6] Rattan Singh v. State of Punjab (1979) 4 SCC 719.