Wrongful Conviction: A Form of Miscarriage of Justice
Wharton’s Law Lexicon defines Miscarriage of Justice as the failure of justice. It is an error in justice meaning i.e. in the interpretation, procedure, or execution of the law which violates the basic due process and can lead to wrongful conviction of innocent people. In Bibhabati Devi v. Ramendra Narayan Roy, the Privy Council held that departure from the rules that permeate all judicial procedures so as to make the resulting proceedings not in the proper sense of the word ‘judicial procedure’ at all. Thus, in such a case there can be a violation of law or procedure which results in an erroneous interpretation or where the negligence of the officers of law or procedure and leads to conviction of an innocent individual.
The Supreme Court in Ayodhya Dube & Ors. v. Ram Sumar Singh, held that lack of judicial approach, non-application of mind by the prosecution and the courts and inappropriate consideration of important evidence amounts to perversity which can give rise to grave miscarriage of justice.
Miscarriage of justice has gone through many interpretations by the courts. The court in K. Chinnaswamy Reddy v. State of Andhra Pradesh, held that a glaring defect in the procedure or a patent error in law can lead to flagrant miscarriage of justice. In State of Punjab v. Madan Mohan Lal Verma, the court held that non-compliance of the principles of natural justice deprives the accused to explain a particular circumstance. Nemo judex causa sua is not only a principle of natural justice but it is enshrined in the law books and is the edifice of a fair trial. If such is not conducted, it is a form of miscarriage of justice. The court in State of Madhya Pradesh v. Dal Singh & Ors, held that if the court while adjudicating upon a dispute, approaches and tests the evidence on patently illegal scale, such findings of the court would be recorded erroneous and perverse and will result in miscarriage of justice. This term also implies of there is a malicious prosecution. Even if a there has been an institution of the suit of such nature, it would be within the ambit.
Remedies under Law
In India, there a lack of compensation scheme or legal mechanism which allows the state to be punished for its mistakes. There are no clear cut provisions in the statutes which provide the victims to seek redressal. There are various judgements, reports and commentaries on the same, but a clear elucidated provision has not been enumerated in the law books.
A perusal of existing laws shows that there are three groups of remedies which are court-based with respect to miscarriage of justice resulting in wrongful prosecution. They are Public Law Remedy, Private Law Remedy; and Criminal Law Remedy.
Public Law Remedy
This type of remedy finds its roots in the Supreme law of the Land, i.e. The Constitution of India. The constitution through Chapter III of Fundamental Rights has provided the right to life and liberty under Article 21 and protection against arbitrary arrests and illegal detention etc. under Article 22. Further it has provided remedies for the violation through the writ jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 32 and the High Courts under 226 of the Constitution which includes the grant of compensation to the victim. The compensatory jurisprudence evolved by the courts have had a tremendous influence in bringing this violation to the centre stage. The Supreme Court in Rudal Shah v. State of Bihar, Khatri v State of Bihar, Boma Chara Oraon v. State of Bihar, Bhim Singh, MLA v. State of J & K & Ors.,SAHELI, A Women’s Resources center & Ors. v. Commissioner of Police Delhi, has awarded compensation and held the state liable for the atrocities. The most crucial in the recent years is Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa whereby the court held that award of compensation in writ proceedings is a remedy under public law and this is based on the principle of strict liability due to the violation of fundamental rights.
Private Law Remedy
The private law remedy for wayward acts of State officials exists in the form of a civil suit against the State and its officials for monetary damages. In pursuance of this, under Article 300 of the constitution, the government of India can be sued in its name. This remedy has been reiterated by the Supreme Court to exist as a distinct and separate remedy from the constitutional remedy provided under the writ jurisdiction. The concept of damages is quite different from compensation because the former is dependent on the rights available under the private law such as tort, while the latter is in the nature of exemplary reparation. It is providing respite by way of making pecuniary amends for the wrongs done as a result of breach of public duty.
Under this concept the state is made liable for the wrongful acts done by it or by its agents. The British concept of sovereign immunity as laid down in the P and O Steam Case is no longer available. Gajendra J, in State of Rajasthan V. Smt. Vidhyawathi has held that India being a Republican Form of Government and being a socialistic State should be held liable vicariously for the tortious acts of its servant. The concept of immunity of the State for the tortious acts of its officials is thus no longer present and the distinction between sovereign and non-sovereign functions is not a ground for negation of liability of acts of sovereign. Civil suits acts a remedy by holding the State accountable for the actions and further by payment of monetary damages. The court in State of Bihar v. Rameshwar Prasad Baidya & Anr, held that for criminal proceeding which were initiated by the state to harass him, it is a form of malicious prosecution and the state would be liable to pay damages to the victim.
Criminal Law Remedy
Chapter IX of the IPC deals with the offences done by the Public Servants. It also deals with the offences which though not done by public servants but relate to them. Further Chapter XI deals with false evidence and offence against public justice, and delineates the obstruction of justice. Further it punishes any instances of tampering with investigation, prosecution, trial and other criminal proceedings by the investigating agency such as police officials and prosecution.
Police and investigating agencies often tamper with evidences and use inhumane ways to secure evidence and confessions. These often result in prosecutions are based on false convictions and innocents spend years languishing behind bars.
The Delhi High Court in State v. Mohd. Naushad & Ors, in its order noted that the police showed casualness and callousness and there have been grave lapses by the police authorities and the entire investigation done in an all betraying a slipshod approach. The court held that the police officials must be punished for bad investigation techniques which resulted in a mistake in the presumption of guilt and the entire case going to haywire.
Challenges to Seek Redressal
The Supreme Court in Thana Singh v. Central Bureau of Narcotics, held that there is a laxity with which the authorities throw citizens into prison. This mentality reflects on lack of appreciation for the misfortunes of incarceration; the severe callousness and a lack of admiration for humanity. There is a serious problem, which grapples the criminal justice system which is the root cause of many of the problems in the system, i.e. the under trail prisoners. The Prison Statistics India (PSI) contains information about the prisons, prisoners, and prison infrastructure and administration. According to the PSI study 2015, there were approximately 4 lakh prisoners across the country; out of which, 68% are under-trials. They are such individuals who are to judicial remand due to pending investigation or trial by the police officials. Such large number of under-trials keep on increasing year after year and with the prolonged detentions a better part of their sentence is spent on awaiting trials determination of their case. This delay is equivalent to a miscarriage of justice. The most celebrated principle of criminal law, i.e. innocent until proven guilty turns into tatters a majority chunk of the individual is spent wallowing in the prison. This dreadful state of affairs is however just the tip of the iceberg.
Apart from the above mentioned problem, there is no standard legal framework to seek compensation. Though remedies have been provided, a consolidated act contains the rights of the citizens and the duties of the state in this field is the need of the hour. Even in the remedies available, there are many pitfalls. The judiciary has not formulated a water tight formula or for that manner any formula for determination of quantum of compensation. This results in a lot of discrepancy and arbitrariness. The civil suits against the government can be filed, however, many procedural challenges are provided. The individual has to follow a lot of hoops such as filing an application under Section 80 of Civil Procedure Code, 1907 first etc. Apart from this, states themselves will never punish themselves and therefore an independent board has to be created to ensure timely manner of discharge of complaints. It must be remembered that in ultimately it is violation of basic human rights and thus, protection is the need of the hour.
India is no longer a police state, it is a welfare state. The state has increased its ambit tremendously in the past few years and it is in every aspect of the citizen’s life, i.e. from cradle to grave. In such a case, state atrocity in the form of wrongful conviction is a violation of human rights. This is a form of miscarriage of justice and there must be legislative framework to ensure that people are not wrongfully incarcerated and prosecuted and if they are adequate remedies are provided for them.