The judgment of the Panchkula special court, which had acquitted all the four accused in the Samjhauta Express bomb blast case last week, comes down heavily on the prosecution, saying the best evidence was withheld, crucial witnesses were not cross-examined and that dozens of witnesses turned hostile. Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi bemoans the paucity of judges in the Supreme Court and in assorted tribunals. He tells lawyers that the apex court would stop entertaining ‘mentions’ except in matters of life and death. India’s justice system, to put it mildly, is strained. This cannot continue, if India is to function as a democracy and a rule-based economy. The election manifesto is a good place for every party to address this problem.
Yes, India needs more courtrooms and more judges at every level. These are as vital a mechanism to empower the poor as schools and health centres. But it is really not necessary to wait for the logistics of the justice system to be completed for effective justice to flow in earnest. If a judge feels that the prosecution is waffling on purpose, why should he or she deliver a verdict? Why should the legal system not allow the judge to express dissatisfaction with the conduct of the prosecution and seek correctives before proceeding to conclude the hearing? Why are judges of lower courts who refuse to learn from repeated Supreme Court judgments on, say, the necessity of an explicit call to proximate violence for the charge of sedition to subsist, not be held in contempt of the apex court? Why should policemen whom Supreme Court judgments hold guilty of fabricating evidence not automatically face prosecution once the judgment is out? Why are the correctives that are possible within the limitations of the existing system not being applied?
Police and prosecution must be free from political pressure. The solution is not to free them from the executive, as has nominally been done with the CBI. Rather, the way ahead is to make the police simultaneously accountable to multi-party committees of the legislature and to the Human Rights Commission.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.
via The crisis in India’s justice system