Thursday, December 31, 2009

India Strengthened Its Victimology Jurisprudence

The long awaited legal reforms in India have finally got attention of the government of India. The government has passed the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act 2009. According to experts like Praveen Dalal, the amendments have brought very pertinent and much needed legal reforms in the criminal jurisprudence of India. The best part about the recent amendments is that they have strengthened and reinforced the “Victimology Jurisprudence” in India, says Dalal.

The Centre on Thursday notified a significant amendment that will allow a victim to file an appeal against a court order in a move which can empower the common man who often fails to get justice because of inefficiency or corruption of prosecuting agencies. The new amendments to Code of Criminal Procedure -- that have been kept in abeyance for almost a year -- have also laid down procedures for the protection of rape victims seeking punishment for their tormentors.

The code gives victims the right to appeal against a court order acquitting an accused, or convicting the accused of a lesser offence. Under the amended Section 372 of CrPC, the victim will not need the permission of any law enforcement or prosecuting agency to appeal a court order. Currently, an appeal can be made only if the prosecution so decides -- a lacuna which allows the rich and the powerful who can influence the prosecution to get away, literally, with murder.

Public outrage over the acquittal of those accused of the murder of Jessica Lal and in other similar high-profile cases in the Capital and other big cities have lately pushed the government to appeal controversial orders. But these instances pale into insignificance when seen against the innumerable instances where prosecution has refused to go the whole length to help victims of crimes.

"The provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act 2008, except Sections 5, 6 and 21 (b) have been notified and they will come into force on December 31," home minister P Chidambaram said. The amended CrPC stipulates that an arrested person shall be examined immediately by a medical officer to protect the interests of the accused.

Another significant amendment is meant to encourage rape victims to report their oppressors. It has been laid down that the statement of a rape victim shall be recorded at her residence and, as far as practical, by a woman police officer in the presence of the victim's parents or guardian, or a social worker.

Trial in a rape case should be completed within two months as far as possible and provision has been made for video recording of statements or confessions. An important amendment has been incorporated in a new Section 357A making it mandatory for state governments to prepare a scheme for providing funds for compensating the victim of a crime or her dependents.

The government has, however, kept on hold certain provisions of CrPC that relate to the power of a police officer to make an arrest and the power of the court to grant or refuse adjournments. These amendments include barring police from arresting an accused for an offence that carries a maximum punishment of seven years without first issuing him/her a notice of appearance. The amendment to Section 309, aimed at speeding up trials, disallowed the granting of adjournments on flimsy grounds.

A statement issued by the home ministry said, "Representations were received against these provisions. Hence, they were referred to the Law Commission. The Law Commission held consultations and submitted its report... It could not be introduced in the last session of Parliament and will be introduced in the budget session. Pending the passage of the amendment bill and pending a debate in Parliament, it has been decided not to notify these three provisions for the present."