Rights Of Accused Far Outweigh That Of Victims, Needs Some Balancing So That Criminal Proceedings Are Fair To Both: SC [Read Judgment]
‘A voice has been given to victims of crime by Parliament and the judiciary and that voice needs to be heard, and if not already heard, it needs to be raised to a higher decibel so that it is clearly heard.’
While holding that ‘victims’ can file appeal without seeking leave to appeal, the Supreme Court has made pertinent observations about rights of victims of crime.
Justice Madan B. Lokur, in his judgment, observed that even today the rights of an accused far outweigh the rights of the victim of an offence in many respects and there needs to be some balancing of the concerns and equalising their rights so that the criminal proceedings are fair to both.
The judge said it is necessary to seriously consider giving a hearing to the victim while awarding the sentence to a convict and victim impact statement or a victim impact assessment must be given due recognition so that an appropriate punishment is awarded to the convict.
The majority judgment began like this: “The rights of victims of crime is a subject that has, unfortunately, only drawn sporadic attention of Parliament, the judiciary and civil society. Yet, it has made great progress over the years. It is our evolving and developing jurisprudence that has made this possible. But we still have a long way to go to bring the rights of victims of crime to the centre stage and to recognise them as human rights and an important component of social justice and the rule of law.”
He opined that meaningful rights have to be provided to victims, including giving a hearing to the victim while awarding the sentence to a convict. The bench also emphasised the importance of rehabilitation of victims and said psycho-social support and counselling to a victim may also become necessary, depending upon the nature of the offence.
The judge said: “It is possible that in a given case the husband of a young married woman gets killed in a fight or a violent dispute. How is the young widow expected to look after herself in such circumstances, which could be even more traumatic if she had a young child? It is true that a victim impact statement or assessment might result in an appropriate sentence being awarded to the convict, but that would not necessarily result in ‘justice’ to the young widow – perhaps rehabilitation is more important to her than merely ensuring that the criminal is awarded a life sentence. There is now a need, therefore, to discuss these issues in the context of social justice and take them forward in the direction suggested by some significant Reports that we have had occasion to look into and the direction given by Parliament and judicial pronouncements.”
The bench also said the Parliament also has taken proactive steps like plea bargaining, victim compensation scheme, and providing them right to appeal. “A considerable amount has been achieved in giving life to the rights of victims of crime, despite the absence of a cohesive policy. But, as mentioned above, a lot more still needs to be done,” Justice Lokur said.
Justice Deepak Gupta, in his separate opinion, observed that the pain which the victim of a criminal offence suffers should be understood by the courts and keeping in view the emerging trends in law, the rights of the victim should not be trampled. “Victims must be treated with sensitivity, compassion and respect. They also must be permitted to access justice because it is sometimes found that the investigating and prosecuting agencies do not follow up cases with the zeal which is required,” he said.