Compensation for Victims of Wrongful Prosecution

    Wrongful conviction/ detainment also referred to as a miscarriage of justice is when a person is convicted and sometimes even punished for the offenses they did not even commit. False confessions by psychologically vulnerable defendants are one of the main reasons for wrongful convictions. Other causes for wrongful conviction are false forensic evidence, negligence, fraud, and misconduct on the part of police officers and prosecutors.

    Introduction

    It has been observed that over the past few years, the rate of wrongful convictions in India has witnessed a drastic rise. More and more innocent people are being convicted and put behind the bars. The very idea of providing remedies to such victims is based on the natural principle which states that if the State, while performing its sovereign functions, has unjustly taken away the liberty of any person, the State must remedy it.

    The wrongful detention of these prisoners not only restricts their freedom of living a healthy life but their family’s rights too. Gopal Shete was wrongfully convicted for committing the crime of rape and was absolved after seven years. The man who once earned a decent amount of salary did not even have enough to arrange a decent meal and his family was in shambles.

    National Judicial Grid (NJDG) depicts that approximately 26.55% of the appeals before it are against the convictions which have been pending before the courts for over 10 years now. On the other hand, data analysis of Prison Statistics India (PSI), 2019, shows that 69.0% (3,30,487) of the total population of prisoners (4,78,600) are under trial.

    A comparative analysis of the PSI reports of 2015 and 2019 shows that the population of under-trial prisoners has hiked by 1.8% over the past few years. Although this data does not comprehensively depict the number of prisoners who are wrongfully held, we can get a picture of the deplorable situation. 

    The question that arises before us is whether the state should compensate the victims of wrongful convictions for the money they had to spend on court fees and other proceedings. Besides, after exoneration, they are forced to live under social stigma and are seen as a criminal. India is in dire need of statutory provisions and effective mechanisms for providing rehabilitative, restorative, psychological, and compensatory relief to the victims and their family members. This article discusses such wrongful convictions, the duty of the state in these cases to compensate the victim, the existing laws in this context, and the need for a uniform law that needs to be in place in this regard.

    Legal Framework

    The Indian courts have in various cases expressed their concerns on the agony suffered by the victims of wrongful detention and provided them with compensation too but India still lacks a uniform mechanism to ensure remedy in all such situations. 

    Article 21 [1] of the Indian Constitution states that every person shall have the right to life and personal liberty and shall not be deprived of the same except according to the procedures established by law. The procedure prescribed for under this Article must be “just, right and fair” [2]. In this case, the victims who are being wrongfully detained are being deprived of their right to life and personal liberty. One of the reasons for the wrongful detention of people in prisons is the plethora of cases pending before the courts and the inefficient judicial system of India. The Hon’ble Supreme Court has recognized the right to a speedy trial as an inherent part of the rights conferred to the Indian citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution of India [3].

    Article 14(6) [4] of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) confers the right to be compensated on the victims of wrongful conviction. It mandates nations to have in place a statutory framework to compensate and rehabilitate the wrongfully detained. Although many countries have converted their commitment under the ICCPR in a form of law either verbatim or by giving them the power to frame laws to the legislative or judicial bodies. Further, Article 9(5) [5] of ICCPR states that anyone who is a victim of unlawful arrest or detention has an enforceable right to compensation. 

    To date, India, despite having ratified ICCPR in the year 1968, has failed to put in place any domestic law for compensation, rehabilitation, and restoration of the wrongfully convicted victims post exoneration. In this scenario, the victims are left with very limited means to claim compensation. They can do so by either filing a suit for damages (tort of malicious prosecution), by invoking provisions under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Chapter IX & XI), by filing a writ petition for the violation of fundamental rights under the Constitution of India.

    In the case of Babloo Chauhan Dabloo v. State Government of NCT of Delhi [6], the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi acknowledged the inadequacy of an established legislative foundation for providing a remedy to the victims of wrongful prosecution. It was in this case that the court requested the Law Commission of India to take up the matter and conduct a comprehensive research study on the same. After a thorough examination, the Law Commission in the year 2018 came up with its 277th Report, “Wrongful Prosecution (Miscarriage of Justice): Legal Remedy”. 

    It was observed by the Commission that the scope of Article 14 (6) of the ICCPR is limited and adoption of the same will not serve the purpose and that there is a dire need of domestic legislation for the cause. The Report lays down an outline of the remedies available to an individual under the already existing Indian laws and discusses their insufficiency and limitedness. The Commission, by the same, suggests the enactment of a separate and specific legal provision for redressal of cases of wrongful prosecution to provide aid and assistance to the victims. The relief therefore provided must be monetary and non-monetary (such as counseling, health services, vocational skills development, etc.) within a legislative framework. The commission has recommended the prosecution of government officers who are found to have maliciously prosecuted an innocent citizen. Lastly, the report proposes to set up Special Courts to deal with all such compensation claims and to ensure speedy delivery of justice.

    https://legalreadings.com/rohingya-refugee-crisis-an-indian-legal-perspective/

    Case Laws

    The first time when the Hon’ble Supreme Court faced the dilemma of whether the wrongfully convicted should be awarded compensation was in the 1983 case of Rudul Shah v. State of Bihar [7]. The petitioner, in this case, was detained unlawfully for 14 years. After exoneration, he filed a petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution for violation of a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21. He was granted compensation of 30,000 rupees. Additionally, the court went on to say that the power to grant compensation is a part of Article 32 in cases where there is a gross infringement of rights.

    In the case of Ram Lakhan Singh v. State of UP [8], the court directed a compensation amount of 10 lakhs rupees to Ram Lakhan, who had been defending the case for almost 10 long years. 

    Nisarudin, a 19-year-old, was held by the police and sentenced to life under the Terrorist and Disruptive Act (TADA) court for a bomb explosion in an educational institution in 1993. After 11 years, the boy was exonerated by the Supreme Court in the year on the ground of inadmissibility of confession given by him in police custody [9]. In this case, the man lost almost 23 essential years of his life only due to the negligence and delay of the judiciary and other concerned authorities. To his dismay, he was not even awarded any compensation preventing him from filing a plea for claiming the compensation because fighting a court case demands money and time.

    In a recent case, Madhumala Das of Assam was arrested and detained for three years for a crime she never committed. In the meantime, her daughter underwent trauma after spending days wandering through the village looking for her mother. As in most other cases, even in this case, it turned out to be one of ‘mistaken identity’ due to the negligence of the police [10].

    Recently, numerous petitions were filed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India claiming compensation in regards to the wrongful prosecution of the innocent. The Supreme Court sought Center’s reply seeking directions to the government to frame guidelines for compensation to victims of wrongful prosecution and to ensure a mechanism to take strict action against fake complainants in criminal cases. The Apex court bench headed by Justice U.U. Lalit issued notices to Centre on the pleas filed by BJP leaders Ashwini Upadhyay and Kapil Mishra. The bench, while issuing notice to the Centre on one of the prayers in the petition filed by Upadhyay, refused to issue notices to the states and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The matters have been posted for further hearing on April 26, 2021.

    The petitions filed by these two BJP leaders were in the backdrop of a recent case in which the Allahabad High Court had declared a man, detained in the jail for around 20 years, was declared innocent and it was proved that the motive behind the FIR was related to a land dispute and the person did not commit rape in the first place.

    In all the aforementioned cases, it can be observed that the gross and abrupt use of power and authority by the state and vexatious complainant has led to a miscarriage of justice. Hence, it is the need of the hour to have specific dedicated legislation in this regard.

    Need for a Specific Legislation

    The currently available remedies create an ex-gratia obligation and not a statutory obligation. Therefore, there is a dire need for specific legislation to impart relief to the victims of wrongful detention and the same has been echoed by the Supreme Court and various High Courts in a plethora of cases. The Supreme Court in the cases of Rudul Shah [11], Nilabati Behera [12], and Dr. Rini Johar [13], has recognized that the State must remedy the victims. 

    This view has also been echoed by various High Courts over the years where the Court held that appellants who are innocent and have suffered for years because of faulty investigation and tainted prosecution, deserve compensation from the State. Hence, it is important to lay down the State’s statutory obligation to compensate these victims of wrongful prosecution with a committed judicial mechanism.

    Conclusion

    Wrongful conviction is when a person is convicted and sometimes even punished for the offenses they did not even commit. In a civilized and democratic country like India where natural justice, equity, and good conscience are the sine qua non of a civilized society, it has been observed that over the past few years, the rate of wrongful convictions in India has witnessed a drastic rise. 

    The very idea of providing remedies to such victims is based on the natural principle which states that if the State, while performing the sovereign functions, has wrongfully taken away the life or liberty of an individual, it must remedy it.

    To date, India does not have any statute to protect the interests of the victims of wrongful convictions. The Law Commission of India in August, 2018 came up with its 277th Report “Wrongful Prosecution (Miscarriage of Justice): Legal Remedy” which suggested a legal framework to overcome the shortcomings of the laws in this subject. The Centre is yet to consider the recommendations of the Law Commission and come up with a statutory framework.

    In this scenario, the victims are left with very limited means to claim compensation. They can do so by either filing a suit for damages (tort of malicious prosecution), by invoking provision under Chapter IX and XI of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, by filing a writ petition for the violation of fundamental rights under the Constitution of India. Since these remedies only create only an ex-gratia obligation, and not a statutory obligation on the State to compensate, it is important to lay down the State’s statutory obligation to compensate these victims of wrongful prosecution with devoted judicial machinery.

    References

    [1] The Constitution of India,a. 21.

    [2] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, (1978) 1 SCC 248.

    [3] Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State Of Bihar, 1979 AIR 1369.

    [4] The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a. 14(6).

    [5] The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a. 14(6).

    [6] 247 (2018) DLT 31.

    [7] 1983 AIR 1086.

    [8] 1977 AIR 1936.

    [9] Sonam Saigal, “Prisoners of the System”, The Hindu, Feb. 20, 2017.

    [10] Anurag Bhaskar, “Jailed For Years: Why India Needs A Right To Compensation For Wrongful Arrests And Detention”, The Print, Jul. 09, 2019. 

    [11] Rudul Shah v. State of Bihar, 1983 AIR 1086.

    [12] Nilabati Behera Alias Lalit Behera v. State Of Orissa & Ors, 1993 AIR 1960.

    [13]  Dr. Rini Johar & Anr. vs State Of M.P.& Ors, AIR 2016 SC 2679.


    BY SAHAJPREET KAUR | SYMBIOSIS LAW SCHOOL, PUNE

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