The Delhi High Court, on Thursday, requested the Law Commission of India to examine the possibility of a legislation for providing relief and rehabilitation to victims of wrongful prosecution and incarceration in India.
The Bench comprising Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice I.S. Mehta highlighted the "urgent need" for a framework, observing, "There is an urgent need, therefore, for a legal (preferably legislative) framework for providing relief and rehabilitation to victims of wrongful prosecution and incarceration. Whether this should be an omnibus legislation or scheme that caters to both the needs of the victim of the crime, as well those wrongfully incarcerated, including the family and dependents of the prisoner, or these have to be dealt with in separate legislation or schemes is a matter for discussion, deliberation and consultation with a cross-section of interest groups.
Specific to the question of compensating those wrongfully incarcerated, the questions as regards the situations and conditions upon which such relief would be available, in what form and at what stage are also matters requiring deliberation. This is a task best left in the first instance to the body tasked with advising the government on the legislative measures needed to fill the obvious gap."
The Court had, in September last year, highlighted several issues that needed consideration, while disposing of a case wherein the Trial Court had ordered the convict to undergo rigorous imprisonment of one year in event of default in payment of fine. The Court had then inter alia opined that the issue concerning the possible legal remedies for victims of wrongful incarceration and malicious prosecution needed deliberation.
During the hearing, amicus curiae Prof. (Dr.) G.S. Bajpai, Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice and Registrar, National Law University, Delhi, informed the Court that 32 States in the USA have enacted laws that provide monetary and non-monetary compensation to people wrongfully incarcerated. The Court was told that specific schemes have been put in place in the UK and New Zealand as well.
Dr. Bajpai also informed the Court that while India does not have an exclusive legislation on the issue, the Supreme Court has time and again ordered compensation to be ordered to the wrongly prosecuted.
The Court then noted, "There is at present in our country no statutory or legal scheme for compensating those who are wrongfully incarcerated. The instances of those being acquitted by the High Court or the Supreme Court after many years of imprisonment are not infrequent. They are left to their devices without any hope of reintegration into society or rehabilitation since the best years of their life have been spent behind bars, invisible behind the high prison walls. The possibility of invoking civil remedies can by no stretch of imagination be considered efficacious, affordable or timely. Further, this has to invariably await the final outcome of the case which may take an unconscionably long time."
The Court then took note of the existing provisions. It expressed qualms over the implementation of Section 436-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure Code, which permits release on personal bond of under trial prisoners who have completed up to one half of the maximum period of imprisonment for that offence. "In any event, it is not an answer to the hardship undergone by an innocent person who is declared as such after spending more than a decade in jail," it opined.
The Court further noted that while Section 358 of the Code provides for compensation to 'persons groundlessly arrested', it "fails to acknowledge the multiple ways in which not only the prisoner, who may ultimately be declared to be innocent, but the family of the prisoner faces deprivation and hardship".
It then directed, "The Court, accordingly, requests the Law Commission of India to undertake a comprehensive examination of the issue highlighted in paras 11 to 16 of this order and make its recommendation thereon to the Government of India.
A copy of the order dated 15th September, 2016 and today's order, together with the report of Prof. Bajpai, be placed before the Chairman of the Law Commission of India."