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Wrongful Conviction – A Tale of Injustice

Wrongful Conviction

This article focuses on the tactics used by the state to avoid a miscarriage of justice in certain cases depending upon the circumstances. Our Indian system of Justice mainly works on the principle of “Fiat Justitia ruat coelum” in spite of which, many wrongful convictions/prosecutions are taking place in the country. Many of the innocent people are wrongfully convicted and many of the people who are not innocent are getting acquitted which leads to injustice and misbalances the legal system with the question of Why? The causes related to wrongful conviction and practices related to criminal justice have been altered in some or the other way by tactics that can be treated as a form of justice.

Wrongful conviction should be stopped because it creates disharmony among the people and affects the legal system of the country. So, if State uses the tactics to resolve the problem of wrongful conviction then it is a good step for innocent people which will help in maintaining peace and balance around the country. These wrongful convictions may lead to many other problems because the person convicted under this are the ones who have not committed the crime and are innocent. If it continues then what difference will be left between the guilty and not guilty people? 

Introduction

If we talk about the criminal justice system of India, the meaning of wrongful conviction is when an innocent person is punished for a crime that he has not committed. And, what our system says is that an accused will not be punished until he is proven guilty. Both are contradictory to each other. When a person completes his period of conviction in case of wrongful conviction without any fault they live in jail and after release, do they have the same life? No, not at all, because once a person moves to jail no matter, if he was at fault or not the society treats him as a criminal only and does not fully accept that person which creates problems for that person in society. The years which the person has spent in jail cannot be reversed and the same is with this reputation also.

Wrongful Conviction in India

If we talk about India particularly, then the inquisitorial system is followed in India which means the burden of proof that he/she has committed the crime is on the prosecution. Sometimes, while seeking justice the punishment is given to the wrong individual.

There is an old saying which states that “no matter if hundreds of murderers are let free but not a single innocent should suffer”. But sadly, due to the lack of available and adequate remedies to the people, they suffer in jail for a long time which depicts the loopholes in the criminal justice system of India.

In the case of Babloo Chauhan v. N.C.T Delhi, it was held that the practice of wrongful conviction leads to miscarriage of justice and that it should be curtailed by legislation through various remedies to impart justice fairly and reasonably.

In Ayodhya Dube & Ors. v. Sumar Singh, it was held that due to the lack of judicial approach and non-application of proper mind, in addition to inappropriate consideration of important pieces of evidence by the Court as well as the prosecution gives rise to a miscarriage of justice.

Many people in India are not aware of the actual conditions of jails due to its elusive concept. As there can be a lack of necessities like proper sanitation, available to the prisoners which leads to the violation of the basic principle of human dignity. But people who are innocent and then wrongfully convicted face problems and their belief in the criminal justice system is almost shattered.

India has not achieved the proper strategy to provide justice to the victims of wrongful prosecution. Many landmark cases happened in India in which the accused was convicted and later on found to be innocent. Some cases are as follows:

  • In the case of Assam’s Madhubala Mondal, Mondal was a 59-year-old woman who was sent to jail and was wrongfully detained for three years in Assam without being guilty in the case. It was said the police were mistaken in identifying her. This mainly highlights the need to bring accountability to the criminal justice system of India.
  • In the Akshardham terror case, the Supreme Court refused to entertain the joint plea by six persons for compensation for wrongful arrest. This was prosecuted for more than a decade and after some time; they were also acquitted by the same court.
  • In the case of State v Saqib Rehman and Others, the court held that the accused was convicted due to false pieces of evidence framed by police officers. But neither the claimant was awarded compensation nor were the police officers punished for the same.
  • In the case of Hussainara Khatun and Others v. Home Assistant State of Bihar, the writ petition of habeas corpus was filed before the Supreme Court which revealed a disturbing picture of undertrials in Bihar. The right to a speedy trial is an essential part of the administration of justice in any state as said by the Apex Court.

Factors that lead to Wrongful Convictions

Miscarriage of Justice

Many factors lead to a wrongful conviction which has been evident in most of the cases.

  • If the defendant is younger then the rules and laws are inclined mostly on his side.
  • If a person who is wrongfully convicted has a criminal history that makes apprehension in the mind of the judges while dealing with the case.
  • When the case is weaker from the side of the prosecution.
  • When the prosecution refuses to give evidence that was desired by another party.
  • When they are lying with the help of non-eyewitness which does not require much evidence depending upon the circumstances of the case.
  • If the witness is misidentified but, not intentionally, it can lead to a wrongful conviction.
  • When at the trial there is a misrepresentation of the forensic evidence.
  • When the side of the defence or overall the defence is so weak that it can’t compete with the other party while providing necessary and important evidence.
  • When a family witness is offered by the defendant but that also depends on the facts and circumstances of the case.
  • Sometimes there is misconduct on the part of the Government which makes the weaker side stronger which depends on people to people involved and the circumstances of the case.

Remedies available under Law

There is no particular or proper law given under any act or statute for the matter related to wrongful conviction but there are many case comments, judgments, and law commission reports which talk about this but despite that also there is lack of compensatory schemes and legal mechanism which makes fair decisions and is always successful in punishing just the wrongdoer.  

In respect of miscarriage of justice, there are some remedies available under existing laws that are court-based. The remedies available under laws are as follows:  

  • Public Law Remedy 
  • Private Law Remedy 
  • Criminal Law Remedy

Remedies Available Under Public Law

In the case of miscarriage of justice, the public remedy available is relevant through the Constitution of India in respect of wrongful conviction. Article 21 talks about the right to life and personal liberty and Article 22 talks about protection against arbitrary arrests and illegal detention which is given under the Constitution of India which is violated by the practice of wrongful conviction. In this case, the aggrieved party can approach either the High Court under Article 226 or the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution.

After the case of Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India, Supreme Court has given the wide and dynamic interpretation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution to maintain law and order as a function of the sovereign because earlier there was no compensation given to the person who has suffered a loss due to wrongful conviction.

In another case of Bhim Singh, MLA v/s State of J & K and others, the emphasis was laid on the need for compensation to be given to the victims but the proper mechanism for determining the compensation awarded to the victim was not decided by the Court.

Supreme Court has awarded compensation to a victim who was illegally kept in jail for 14 years after the order of acquittal in the case of Rudal Shah v. State of Bihar.

When there are cases of wrongful conviction, it mainly includes the infringement of a fundamental right, abuses or question the process of law, etc.., the Supreme Court and the High Courts have been given the power to order the State to pay compensation to the aggrieved party as well as to serve as a preventive method for the wrongdoer; but as such there is no set framework through which a particular compensation can be determined.

Remedies available under Private Law

In the case of private law, the monetary damages are given to the victim by the state when there is an act that is not appropriate is committed by the state officials.

In the case of State of Bihar v. Rameshwar Prasad Baidya & Anr, it was held that the state will be liable for the malicious prosecution done by the state employees and should pay the damages to the accused of harassing him during the criminal proceedings.  

In Kasturi Lal Ralia Ram Jain v. State of U.P., Supreme Court held that when a suit is filed against the state officials or police officers for the damages and loss faced by the victim due to their negligence then the principle of Sovereign immunity will apply which means the government officials will not be held liable to pay the compensation because they were performing the sovereign function.

A public remedy that is a remedy under Article 32 and 226 to restore their rights is more than that available in the private remedy because the constitutional remedy is speedier than the civil suit proceedings which lessen the time.

Remedies available under Criminal Law

The remedies available under criminal law regarding wrongful prosecution, conviction, or incarceration in earlier laws were different but this particular law only focuses on the miscarriage of justice. The provisions regarding these are given under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) and the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (Cr. P.C) which lay down the substantive and procedural laws for the actions of the wrongdoer or against them.

Indian Penal Code

Chapter IX and XI of the IPC deals with offences which can be committed by public servants and the offences which relate to public servants, though not committed by them and false evidence and offence against public justice”. All the sections contained in these chapters all together make a list of offences that provide possible chances of police, investigating agency and prosecutorial misconduct concerning an investigation, etc,

Of Offences relating to Public Servant

The sections under this topic are Section 166, section 166A, and section 167.

  • Section 166 which deal with Public Servant not obeying the law, to cause injury to another person. 
  • Section 167 deals with the making of the incorrect document to cause injury to the person. 
  • Section 166 A deals with three kinds of abandonment of law by a public servant which leads to an offence 
  • Section 218 of IPC criminalizes the intentional preparation of a false/incorrect record by a public servant to cause loss or injury to any person.
  • Section 219 of IPC deals with corruptly making of the report by a public servant in a judicial proceeding.
  • If the confinement of a person in itself is in contradiction with the law, then it would be an offence under section 220, IPC.

False Evidence and Offences against Public Justice

Section 191 to Section 195 of IPC deals with what amounts to false evidence and fabrication of false evidence done with the intent that such evidence comes out in a judicial proceeding, and brings an incorrect opinion touching upon any point material to the result of such proceeding. It also talks about the punishment for the above offences to procure conviction for an offence punishable with capital punishment and life imprisonment. 

Section 211 of IPC is also important regarding the miscarriage of justice which results in a wrongful conviction.

Code Of Criminal Procedure

  • Sections 129 to 131 of Cr.P.C; deal with controlling an unlawful assembly that is alleged to have caused a breach of peace.
  • Sections 132 and 197 of Cr.P.C ensure safeguards to protect judges and public servants from vexatious litigation concerning their actions while performing a public function. 
  • Section 116 requires that a proper sanction is to be received from the Central or the State Government before the institution of any criminal proceeding against a police officer who has been alleged to have committed a criminal offence during the discharge of his duty.
  • Section 358 deals with the compensation awarded to the person who is arrested not on appropriate grounds.

Conclusion

Wrongful conviction and prosecution is a serious issue that should be immediately dealt with, by fair procedure. This is not a coincidence or tragedy but a mistake or misidentification of some facts or circumstances related to the case may be knowingly or unknowingly, depending from case to case, which leads to the innocent being in danger of conviction. Due to this people lose faith and trust in the legal system and judiciary which directly puts a question on our criminal justice system, as innocent people are sent to jail and the criminal is roaming free, here and there on the streets, which is a shameful situation.

So, therefore, the state is responsible for taking the necessary steps to deal with the issue. By improving the quality of legal representation for the people who can’t afford it and improving the reliability of evidence in our courtrooms, providing proper eyewitnesses, proper method of identification and interrogation should be needed, etc, there are many easy reforms which can be practised to prevent tragedies of wrongful conviction. 

Therefore, we can say that a state plays a very crucial role in dealing with these kinds of issues. Judicial reforms based on the 227th report of the law commission of India are the need of the hour. India can take references on dealing with wrongful convictions from foreign countries so that there are no wrongful convictions done or if committed then compensation should be given like in other countries. The state should mainly be should focus on the establishment of a fair legislative process that leads to a transparent, uniform, efficacious, affordable, and timely remedy for the loss and danger caused to the victims on account of wrongful prosecution or conviction.


Editor’s Note
The worst possible form of injustice is putting an innocent individual behind bars, and India is not unbeknownst to this situation. The author puts forth the reasons behind such injustice in India from the kind of judicial system we follow to how the jurisprudence on this matter has evolved through various cases. It throws light on our poor administration of justice and the plight of those who have the misfortune of being wrongfully convicted. The author has also mentioned the remedies available under Public law, Private law, and Criminal law and concludes the article attributing duty to the State to protect the rights of the people and cautioning us to the urgency of the need for judicial reforms.


Submitted by Riya Luhadia.

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