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Dr. KS Raghavan Bookmark and Share

Nirbhaya has been in news during the recent weeks and months. Reason is the inordinate delay in hanging the convicts of gang rape and brutal murder of the young woman, who got that name posthumously, in a shocking incident which took place more than seven years ago. Over the last seven years law of the land has been taking its own course at a slow pace. The convicts were supposed to be hanged on January 22nd.  Death warrant was also issued. It appeared to be a goof on the part of jail and court authorities because mercy petition was pending. As of today (Jan. 26, 2020) the condemned are to be hanged on 30th.  There is a little suspense even about this date as one of the convicts has challenged the president’s action of dismissing the mercy petition.

One of the reasons for this delay is the principle of natural justice. The guiding principle is that every accused person is entitled to fair trial. During proceedings the judge once justified postponement of hearing citing the “rights of the accused”.  This made Nirbhaya’s mother to weep in the open court and ask “don’t we have any rights at all?” The judge sympathised with the lady but pleaded helplessness.

Questions uppermost in many people’s minds are related to such delays. It is universally agreed that delay in justice is tantamount to denial of justice. Is the law of the land alone to be blamed? Is there scope for accelerating and expediting the trials? Is there a need for review and overhaul of the law? Chief justice of India has expressed unhappiness about legal delays and the ever increasing number of pending court cases in all courts.

Gloria Steinem, the well-known American feminist, has said that law and justice may not always be the same. Further, she adds that in such cases destroying the law may be an option. These words are worth pondering over in light of what has happened over the last seven years in Nirbhaya case.

In light of Gloria’s statements the incident which happened in Hyderabad nearly two months back is worth recalling. The crime is similar to Nirbhaya incident. A young veterinary doctor was gang raped, killed and burnt by miscreants. The aftermath is sensational. Police arrested four suspects and after a couple of days shot them dead in an “encounter”. There were many unanswered questions about this so-called encounter. Public opinion about the police action has also been divided. Whereas there are many who are critical of the police action, a number of people, which includes victim’s family members, did welcome the police action. The police officer concerned was hailed as hero.

That incident is forgotten. More importantly, the case is closed. The only question is whether the suspects were real culprits. If they were the real culprits, in Gloria’s words police did destroy the law and delivered justice. However, I personally am not inclined to endorse the police action as this may set up a dangerous precedence.

The bottom line remains that our judiciary needs critical review and through overhaul. 

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