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Closing the gaps in Criminal Justice

  • IASbaba
  • April 9, 2022
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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Closing the gaps in Criminal Justice

Context: The Supreme Court of India, while hearing a criminal appeal, took suo motu cognisance of certain deficiencies and inadequacies which occur during the course of criminal trials. As a result, it issued the necessary directions in Criminal Trials vs The State of Andhra Pradesh (2021) case.

What were the directions issued?

These directions inter alia included

  1. Presentation of site plan
  • The Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) mandates that the officer-in-charge of a police station shall proceed to the spot (of the crime) in person to investigate the facts and circumstances of the case and prepare a site sketch.
  • This site plan was admissible if the witnesses corroborate these statements of the draftsman that they showed him the places.
  • Significance: The guidelines issued now say that the site sketch can be prepared by investigating officer or nominated person depending on the importance of case. As a result, the police need to develop its own cadre of draftsmen
  1. Inquest report and body sketches (in a post-mortem report) in a uniform manner
  • If the evidence and materials collected during an inquest ‘make it a prima facie case of any offence’, a criminal case is registered and regular investigation taken up even without any formal complaint from anyone
  • The guidelines mandate that every medico-legal certificate and post-mortem report shall contain a printed format of the human body (with both a frontal and rear view)
  • Significance: Their standardisation will not only help the court to better appreciate these reports and scrutinise the evidence, but will also help the investigating officers and doctors to refresh their memory with more clarity.
  1. Photographs and videographs of a post-mortem in certain cases
  • Having trained photographers at police stations (in accordance with Supreme Court’s ruling of 2018 in Shafhi Mohammad vs the State of Himachal Pradesh) is also under way in a phased manner so that scenes of heinous offences are videographed and photographed using digital cameras.
  • The draft Code now provides that the investigating officer shall seize such photographs and videographs, preserve the original (separate memory card) and obtain certificate under Section 65B (regarding admissibility of electronic records) of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
  • Significance: The purpose of these guidelines is to ensure that there is uniformity of procedure in dealing with cases of death in police action or police custody without any tampering of evidence.
  1. Separation of prosecution from the investigation.
  • The Court in Sarala vs T.S. Velu (2000) held that as per the scheme of the CrPC, the investigation ends with the formation of an opinion by the police as to whether, on the material collected, a case is made out to place the accused for trial
  • The formation of the said opinion by the police is the final step of investigation, and this final step is to be taken by the police and by no other authority. The public prosecutor is an officer of the court and his role essentially is inside the court.
  • More recently, in State of Gujarat vs Kishanbhai (2014), the Court, while taking note of the many lapses in investigation, directed that ‘on completion of the investigation in a criminal case, the prosecuting agency should apply its independent mind, and require all shortcomings to be rectified, if necessary, by requiring further investigation’.
  • Significance: Since, investigation and prosecution are two different facets in the administration of criminal justice, the three judge Bench of the Supreme Court has now rightly asked the States to separate the two wings.
    • Chhattisgarh has sanctioned a cadre of law officers (who shall function independently of the public prosecutors and will have no role in the court) to assist the investigating officers in educating and improving investigation work.
  1. Direction to High Court
  • The High Courts and the State governments were, accordingly, asked to notify the draft “Rules of Criminal Practice, 2021” which all the States and the High Courts had agreed upon with minor variations, and make consequential amendments in their police and other manuals.

Conclusion

while the creation of a cadre of draftsmen and photographers may take time, executive orders may be issued without further delay, followed by training of investigating officers and medical doctors, in order to implement the Supreme Court’s directives.

Connecting the dots:

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