Human Rights and the Criminal Justice System of India

Criminal Justice System

Human Rights are those rights which every individual possesses by his birth as a human being. In other words, it can be said that Human Rights are those minimal rights, which every independent person must have as the citizen of India, irrespective of any other consideration of caste, creed, gender, religion, etc. These rights are naturally inherent and inalienable. However, in every walk of life, Human rights are violated not by other fellow individuals but also by the social institutions established with the sole purpose of safeguarding the rights of all. The denial of human rights and fundamental freedom is not only an individual and personal tragedy. It also creates situations of chaos in society. The extent to which human rights are appreciated and protected within the backdrop of its criminal proceedings is an important measure of society’s civilization.

The Criminal Justice System consisting of Police, Legislature, Judiciary, and Correctional Institutions plays a major role in effectuating human rights and thereby, protect and safeguard the human rights of the citizens of a country. Sometimes, these pillars of the Criminal Justice system go against the tenets of human rights like there is violence in police custody and prison, illegal confinement of innocent, internet shutdown, political unrest, etc. Despite the persistent intervention of the judiciary to control these excesses, such incidents of human rights violations have been increasing day by day.

Evolution of Human Rights in India

Source – Social Media

A basic minimum standard of treatment to which the system of criminal justice of every country must conform has been laid down by Articles 9 to 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These are:

  • Everybody who is deprived of his liberty should be treated with a sense of humanity, i.e. with respect for the intrinsic dignity of a human person. Based on this principle, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. Supreme Court of India has held in the case of Francis Coralie v. Union Territory of Delhi, that ‘life’ in Article 21 means life with human dignity.
  • A person cannot be arrested, detained, and exiled arbitrarily. Similarly, Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides that no person shall be deprived of life and personal liberty except according to the procedure prescribed by law. After the judgment of the Supreme Court in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the procedure under Article 21 must be fair, just, and reasonable and cannot be tyrannical, unfair, or unreasonable.
  • Everyone charged with a penal offense has a right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty in a public trial and he has all the guarantees necessary for his defense. Indian criminal jurisprudence is based on this radical principle.
  • No one shall be held guilty of any penal offense on account of any act or omission which did not constitute penal offense at the time when it was committed. Article 20(1) of the Indian Constitution also provides that a person can only be punished for the offense which is treated as an offense in the substantive law at the date of its commission and he/she cannot be subjected to a penalty greater than they have committed.
  • No one’s privacy, family, home, or correspondence should be subjected to arbitrary interference. Such a right was recognized by the Supreme Court enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution in Kharak Singh v. State of U.P., and after Maneka Gandhi’s case, it is clearly established that procedure must be fair and reasonable which by connotation prohibits such arbitrary interference.
  • Accused persons, save in exceptional circumstances, be segregated from those who have been convicted and be treated separately. Similarly, juvenile persons should be separated from adults and treated according to their age and status. In Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, the Supreme Court held that keeping under trial prisoners, who are presumed to be innocent, with convicts contradict the test of reasonableness under Article 19 or fairness under Article 21. In Sheela Barse v. Union of India, Supreme Court emphasized that children should not be confined to jails because it has a dehumanizing effect and is harmful to the growth and development of children. 
  • The aim of the Penitentiary system is primarily the reformation and rehabilitation of criminals. In recent years endeavors have been made in this direction also but need more efforts in this regard. 

Hence, the Indian Constitution as illustrated by several decisions of the Supreme Court contributes to the protection of human rights in conformity with international standards. The Human Rights Commission Act, 1993 provides for the constitution of National and State Human Rights Commissions to enquire into grievances of violations of human rights and incompetency on the part of the Government machinery in prohibiting such violations and to recommend measures for effective implementation of laws provided by the Constitution and various statutes of the country.

Current Scenario of Criminal Justice System in India

Presently, our criminal justice is archaic, obsolete, and oppressive, which faces heavy criticism when issues of human rights are raised at national and international fora. These criticisms come not only from our human rights activists, scholars, writers, journalists, the chieftains of criminal justice, but also from International sources like Amnesty International, World Watch, etc. The situation is worsening because two-third of the criminal justice system comprises of policy and prisons that quite often violate human rights and perpetuates human wrongs, and the tiny one-third comprises of the judiciary (largely through apex court) tries to protect and promote human rights.

There are countless numbers of reports on chilling human rights abuses of the pre-emergency era and emergency era, which have emerged from indigenous sources. The successive convergence of these reports represents continuing patterns of abuse in the administration of criminal justice in the country. The reports mainly focus on torture, including custodial rapes and deaths. The reports criticize blatantly unconstitutional practices. The two-third sub-systems blame the apex court and some of its human rights-minded judges as a bleeding-heart liberal, impractical idealists, arm-chair theoreticians, etc. The court, on the contrary, churns out judgments and judgments, which fret at the derelictions of police and prisons. The result is that our system of criminal justice has a double face; one harms and the other tries to heal.

The principal sectors of Human Rights Abuses in the Criminal Justice System are as follows:

  • Crimes: The increase in crime leads to enhance in their variety because of socio-political-economic factors. Organized crimes have also escalated which is a serious challenge not only to the police but also to the existence of civilized society itself. The worrying factor is that there is a linkage between organized criminals and terrorists. Hence, posing a threat to the national security itself.
  • Police: Policing in a democratic society is seen as upholding the dignity of the individual by safeguarding constitutional and legal rights. However, democracy gets threatened when the police cease to respect the legal and constitutional rights of the citizens and persistently disregard the due process of law. It is commonly seen that when a complainant approached the police for filing a grievance, he is treated with discourtesy, indifference, and indignity in the police station. Though the use of third-degree methods is an accepted practice of the police methodology of interrogating the accused, it has been recognized as a violation of fundamental rights and forbidden under the law. Still, this method is pervasive and routine in police stations. 
  • Courts: The courts can take interest and monitor investigation only to the limited matters placed before them. It has jurisdiction only upon what is presented by the police as evidence. The Criminal Justice System is based on the two golden rules of criminal law that the presumption of innocence must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and ten guilties may go free but not even one innocent person should suffer. However, the quality of human material and the trustworthiness of witnesses have increasingly come under stress, as the witness turning hostile, resulting in a large number of acquittals and failing to support the prosecution case of the trial.
  • Prisons: The conditions in custodial/correctional prisons are violative of human rights. The prison administration in India has been always a subject of criticism in the press, parliament, and judiciary. Overcrowding in prisons, prolonged detention of under-trial prisoners, unsatisfactory living conditions, lack of treatment programs, and allegations of indifference and even in the human approach of prison staff have repeatedly attracted the attention over the years. 
  • State: The so-called protector of human rights in the country appears to be the biggest violator. The factors infiltrating the machinery of State are coercive processes, the concentration of powers in the hands of the executive, the dominance of the state, condemnation by human rights activists and civil liberty, the despotic proclivity of the authorities, terrorism of the extremists, etc. 

Suggestions for improving the Criminal Justice System

Human Rights

There is a need to improve the quality of forensic expertise and make it truly a system for the promotion of justice. The evidence obtained by scientific investigation may also be excluded on grounds of violation of the Evidence Act or restrictions prescribed by the constitution. The police, the Government and the society each have a role to play in improving the law enforcement situation and in developing human rights-friendly police in the country. A lot can be accomplished to commute public perceptions and to ameliorate the standards of policing if the leadership in the police organization is wholly committed to reform.

After all, every profession has the predominant responsibility to discipline its members and sustain a code of ethical behavior by internal mechanisms by peer groups in the organization. Though speedy trial has been recognized as a fundamental right because it is a prerequisite of a fair procedure under Article 21, yet the postponement in the administration of criminal justice is a usual affair. Delay is both at the stage of investigation and prosecution as well as in trial time limit should not be unreasonable or immutable because if justice delayed is justice denied then justice buried is justice hurried. A balance between the two extremes is preferable. 

To suppress human rights violations, it is recommended to formulate an official declaration of uniform policy by the government related to violations of the Human Rights of the accused by law enforcement. Governments should sanction stringent laws to punish the perpetrators of human rights violations. Governments should also take expeditious corrective action in case of human rights violations. The mechanism for protecting the human rights of the accused at the International, national and regional levels must be intensified and the States should not shield themselves from International Scrutiny on the matter of human rights. Every state must constitute a functional agency for inspections and redressal of violations of human rights.

Governments should endorse the international human rights treaties securing the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the accused. States should provide a constructive framework of remedies for the redressal of human rights violations. Investigating agencies, prosecuting agencies, judiciary, and the legal profession should make efforts to preclude the human rights violations of the accused by giving him pertinent and appropriate legal aid. States should recognize the world of non-governmental organizations in the encouragement of human rights and humanitarian activities at international, national, and regional levels. States should facilitate Non-Governmental organizations and other members involved in the discipline of human rights.


The evolution of law by the Supreme Court for the protection of Human rights has evoked criticism from certain fractions but this criticism is not based on any empirical research. It proceeds on a presumption that any protection given to a suspect or accused is bound to injure the interest of the society by encouraging crime and making its detection difficult, if not possible. Unfortunately, in our country, there is less socio-legal or empirical research particularly in the field of criminology, because of which our criticism of the law as interpreted and evolved by the courts is often not established on factual or sociological data but is based only on certain ingrained attitudes and misconceptions.

There must be socio-legal research in various areas of criminal law to afford guidance to the courts in their none-too easy of laying down the law which would best serve the interest of the society, without relinquishing the interest of the innocent. The institution of the National Human Rights Commission can contribute if, instead of becoming a face-saving device against international criticism of human rights conditions, it dedicates itself sincerely to the detection of human rights violations in crime control activity and actuates itself towards corrective and remedial steps.

A reconciliation lies in improving the domestic culture of rights which in turn will replenish our image on the international platform also. Thus, it can be concluded that to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the accused, we must generate awareness for human rights in people’s minds, otherwise, the concept of human rights will zigzag one step forward, and two steps back.