Justice Delayed is Justice Denied: NCHRO Seminar in Bhopal.
Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
The NCHRO campaign “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied” was launched at a Seminar in Gandhi Bhavan, Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh) on 23 June 2019.
The founders of our Constitution made provision that the judiciary must adjudicate the disputes before them ‘diligently and without delay, without fear, favour or prejudice’ and fulfil the guaranteed right to a ‘fair public hearing before a court’ or other competent authority. A criminal charge shouldn’t hang over someone’s head for years – but neither should serious lawbreakers ever get off scot-free. For an accused, justice delayed is justice denied. And for the idea of the rule of law itself, the impunity for lawbreakers is also justice denied.
According to the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), as of October 2018, about 30 million cases are pending in the various Indian courts. Of all the pending cases, about 7 million cases are more than 5 years old and 2.3 million cases are more than 10 years old. Worrisome statistics revealing long delays in the handing down of judgments in far too many cases in our Courts. Behind every statistic measuring the increasing delays and court overloads, is a human being in pain and conflict. Those charged criminally have a right “to have their trial begin and conclude without unreasonable delay”.
National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) new prisons report has no caste, religion breakdown of inmates because the NCRB has completely skipped reporting on the categories of prisoners and undertrials based on their caste and religion. Undertrials, as people held in prison during or awaiting trial are referred to, account for two out of every three people in prisons in our country. The fact is that there are some social and religious groups whose members comprise more prisoners than their share in the Indian population. These groups are Dalits, Tribals and the Minorities, especially Muslims.
The 2015 NCRB report noted that Dalits, Adivasis, and Muslims constitute 55% of the Undertrial prisoners in India. Many prisoners languish in prisons because the police do not complete investigation and file the chargesheet on time. A large number of them don’t have proper access to legal aid, and at least a quarter of inmates have been languishing in jails for more than a year across the country.
Undertrial prisoners are innocent until proven guilty. Prolonged detention, physical and psychological mistreatment in prison, overcrowding of prisons, experience violence within jails, discrimination based on caste and religion, lack of money or surety to seek bail, etc. add to the woes of these already marginalised detainees. As we laud the ideals of the Constitution, we must realize that rights are only formalities if they cannot be exercised.
Justice Delayed is Justice Denied is what persons charged under draconian laws such as Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, (UAPA), 1967 have been facing in our country. Under UAPA people spending more than a decade in jail before being acquitted shows its potential for misuse. There are inordinate delays in granting of prosecution sanction, which is mandatory under section 45 of the UAPA. In some cases, this period extended up to 10 years, leading to undertrials being forced to stay in jail without trial. Action against citizens through UAPA, indeed not passing the test of reasonableness, rationality and procedural fairness as mandated under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
Access to justice is also a pressing issue – Dalits, Minorities, Poor and the Vulnerable face a multitude of problems from the first stages of filing a complaint to the handing down of judgments. These categories have bigger challenges in accessing justice and face discrimination, abuse, exploitation, and neglect and yet lack the capacity to enforce their rights through meaningful remedies.
Despite the raft of laws, provisions, reservations, and schemes, impunity reigns and implementation of protections is virtually absent for these vulnerable class. They still cannot go to a police station and lodge a complaint about a genuine grievance, unless they are backed by a local politician or a higher police officer. State legal systems must be organised to ensure that every person can invoke the “legal processes for legal redress irrespective of social and economic capacity and that every person should receive just and fair treatment within the legal system.
To be accused of a crime is to become the target of all of the state’s awesome power. If charges can’t be proved within a reasonable time, they should be dismissed. It’s only just. But for actual lawbreakers who missed conviction of their offences is also an injustice. And it’s an injustice that hurts all crime victims, and all of society.
The history of communal riots and now Mob Violence, Mob Lynching, etc in independent India is replete with instances of justice delayed and denied to the victims. Years after these incidents took place many of the instigators of mass violence are still not behind the bars. Although the faces of the guilty men are well-known, justice has been repeatedly delayed.
The investigation had indeed been carried out by the very same police force whose passivity during the attack was at issue. The complicity and partiality of the state’s justice system, Lack of integrity or independence of many commissions and special investigation teams underline that conceptualising justice and ensuring meaningful access to justice still burdensome for the societies suffered mass violence and repression.
Law courts no longer inspire public confidence. Litigants get only increasingly distant dates after dates for their next hearing. Judgments, not justice per se, come after a seemingly interminable wait. Years of obfuscation and delays, Appeals of dubious nature, all of which have been administered and processed at a most leisurely pace. Adjournments are given freely, witnesses don’t come on time, Decades pass, witnesses’ memories fade with time, governments change, witnesses die… And there’s nobody looking for a better judicial administration. The biggest culprit is the misuse of the procedure.
The common misuse is adjournments sought by counsel mostly to regal out of a difficult situation faced in the trial and/or to simply prolong the decision and disposal of the case. Government litigations, which reportedly constitute nearly half of all litigations in the Indian courts, have often been cited as a major reason for the backlogs in our courts. India has one of the world’s lowest ratios of judges to population in the world; As a result, scores of cases are heard every day, which leads to a large number of adjournments, judges passing cases between them. Justice would remain elusive and unattainable when political interference in cases that effectively barred or delayed the investigation and possible prosecution of cases. Indeed No politician or bureaucrat wants a strong judiciary.
The judicial system is in dire need of a complete overhaul. Laws need rewriting. Lawyers need to be penalised for delaying matters without reason. Badly needed set of reforms to the nation’s prison system, and even more importantly, start to focus on the draconian sentencing laws and its deliberately disproportionate impact on innocent people.
A procedure must be available in order to ensure that the trial will proceed “without undue delay”, both in the first instance and on appeal. Judicial review mechanism should be enacted to discipline abuse of executive power. An improved justice delivery system means cutting down number of adjournments, checking frivolous petitions and so on. Alternative Dispute Resolution schemes may also be promoted. Information and communications technology should be used more in filing and receiving orders, serving notices and other processes.
The contributors explore many issues, including Plight of Undertrials, Reductions of delays in case disposal, Access to justice by marginalised groups etc. Speakers, including Senior Journalist and Social Activist LS Hardania, Social activist and PUCL member Madhuri Ben, Co-Convenor of the State Committee of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti Adv. Aradhana Bhargava, NCHRO EXco member Adv. Ansar Indori, Communist Party of India (ML) State Secretary Vijay Kumar, Khushboo Chaurasia etc shared their perspectives.
Concluding the seminar, Khushboo Chaurasia, Program Convener added that, for survival of constitutional democracy the judiciary should function as a well-oiled machine that is responsive and accountable to the needs of the people. With commitment and affirming our common and interdependent humanity we should continue striding forward until we achieve the true transformative change that promotes speedy,fair trial and timely justice.
Coinciding with the Seminar, International Anti-Torture Day 2019 Posters with the NCHRO theme “”FIGHTING FOR A WORLD WITHOUT TORTURE” has been released. Abdul Sardad thanked all the speakers, guests, delegates and organizing committee members for making the event successful.