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Closing the Gaps in Criminal Justice

Context

States can do better in incorporating the Supreme Court’s crucial guidelines to overcome certain deficiencies. Supreme Court of India, while hearing a criminal appeal, took suo moto cognisance of the inadequacies that occur during an investigation.

Relevance

GS-II: Structure, Organization and Functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary—Ministries and Departments of the Government; Pressure Groups and Formal/Informal Associations and their Role in the Polity

Dimensions of the Article

  • Guidelines issued
  • Preparing a Site Sketch
  • Testing Veracity
  • For Better Scrutiny
  • On Investigation
  • Way Forward

Guidelines Issued

  • Supreme Court issued guidelines in In Re: To issue certain Guidelines regarding Inadequacies and Deficiencies in Criminal Trials vs The State of Andhra Pradesh (2021).
  • These directions inter alia included presentation of site plan, inquest report and body sketches (in a post-mortem report) in a uniform manner, photographs and videographs of a post-mortem in certain cases, and separation of prosecution from the investigation.
  • High Courts and the State governments were, accordingly, asked to notify the draft “Rules of Criminal Practice, 2021” which all the States and the High Courts had agreed upon with minor variations, and make consequential amendments in their police and other manuals.

Preparing a Site Sketch

  • Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) mandates that the officer in-charge of a police station shall, on receiving information about the commission of a cognisance offence, proceed to the spot in person to investigate the facts and circumstances of the case.
  • General practice is to prepare a site sketch that show details of the crime scene and collect evidence.
  • A site plan drawn on scale is admissible if the witnesses corroborate these statements of the draftsman.
  • The contents of the site map would not become admissible as evidence merely by its exhibition by the investigating officer.
  • Guidelines issued now say that the site sketch prepared by the investigating officer shall be followed by a scaled site plan prepared by a police draftsman
  • Looking at the importance of a site plan (which captures the details of a crime scene and its surroundings) particularly in a case of suspicious death, the police need to develop its own cadre of draftsmen
  • Guidelines mandate that every medico-legal certificate and post-mortem report shall contain a printed format of the human body (with both a frontal and rear view) on its reverse and injuries, if any, shall be indicated on such a sketch.

Testing Veracity

  • The purpose of preparing an inquest report is to ‘ascertain whether a person has died under suspicious circumstances or died an unnatural death and if so, what the injuries are and the apparent cause of death’
  • It is settled law that the contents of the inquest report cannot be treated as evidence, but they can be looked into to test the veracity of the witnesses of the inquest.
  • If the investigating officer himself observes and records evidence, it is treated as ‘direct or primary evidence in the case and the best in the eyes of the law’.
  • The post-mortem report is a ‘document which by itself is not a piece of substantive evidence.
  • The post-mortem report can only be used as ‘an aid to refresh the memory of the doctor while giving evidence’.

For Better Scrutiny

  • National Human Rights Commission has already laid down similar guidelines for cases of deaths in police custody.
  • Their standardisation will not only help the court to better appreciate these reports and scrutinise the evidence, but will also help the investigating officers and doctors to refresh their memory with more clarity.
  • The Supreme Court in People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs State of Maharashtra (2014) issued similar guidelines for deaths in exchange of free with the police.
  • Implementation of the scheme of having trained photographers at police stations in accordance with Supreme Court’s ruling of 2018 in Shafhi Mohammad vs the State of Himachal Pradesh is also under way in a phased manner.
  • Draft Code now provides that the investigating officer shall seize such photographs and videographs, preserve the original and obtain certificate under Section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
  • Purpose of these guidelines is to ensure that there is uniformity of procedure in dealing with cases of death in police action or police custody without any tampering of evidence.

On Investigation

  • Supreme Court has further directed that ‘the state governments shall appoint advocates, other than public prosecutors, to advise the investigating officer during investigation.
  • In many States, a public prosecutor advises the investigating officer to check and make up for any deficiency in investigation before submitting the chargesheet in courts.
  • There have been conflicting judgments by the Supreme Court on this issue. The Court in R. Sarala vs T.S. Velu (2000) held that as per the scheme of the CrPC, the investigation ends with the formation of an opinion by the police as to whether, on the material collected, a case is made out to place the accused for trial.
  • In State of Gujarat vs Kishanbhai (2014), the Court, while taking note of the many lapses in investigation, directed that ‘on completion of the investigation in a criminal case, the prosecuting agency should apply its independent mind, and require all shortcomings to be rectified, if necessary, by requiring further investigation’

Way Forward

Criminal Justice System in India needs reforms and these guidelines have been a positive step in that direction. Furthermore, recognizing the fact that Investigation and Prosecution are two separate facets in administration of criminal justice their separation is a welcome step. This has already been done in Chattisgarh and other states must follow suit. Creating a cadre of photographers, draftsman and evidence collectors would do great good to the police.

Source – The Hindu

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September 2022
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