Suggestions for Justice Verma Committee for Safety and Security of Women

The recent death of a young woman who was not only raped in a moving Delhi bus but also subjected to other severe physical harm in a most inhuman way is indeed tragic. There is no dearth of reports of similar crime against women and children elsewhere in the country. It is therefore, about time that corrective steps are taken to stem such crime. The following, in my personal opinion, may help:

Rape and murder

Rape accompanied by murder of the victim should be treated as 'rarest of the rare crimes' and should be made punishable with death penalty. Rape of a minor below 15 years of age as also gang rape of a woman should lead to harsher punishment of life imprisonment.

CrPC and Indian Evidence Act

CrPC and Indian Evidence Act should be rewritten with a view to striking a balance between the ‘need to ensure that no innocent person gets punished’ and ‘securing speedy justice not only for the victims of heinous crimes like rape but also other serious crimes’.

Adjournments

Courts are overloaded with work leading to delays in conclusion of trials. Part of the problem can be attributed to the indiscriminate grant of adjournments, which not only increase court work but also give undue benefit to the accused and discourage the victims helping in the prosecution of such crimes. This tendency should be curbed by making appropriate provisions in procedural law.

Police accountability

Police accountability should be enforced through legal provisions. For this to happen in a pragmatic way police should be enabled to execute their duty efficiently without any outside interference. Crime prevention and crime investigation should be segregated and the later should be put into specialized and professionally trained hands with full infrastructural support and full accountability, as well, to the courts. Courts should be mandated to monitor this activity.

Judicial accountability

Judicial accountability should also be enforced through appropriate statutory provisions. The system of annual inspections by inspecting judges of the High Courts is just not enough. Proper statutory IT enabled monitoring of court proceedings should be put in place with a view to carry out monthly reviews of the progress of the court proceedings and mid course corrections should be carried out if proceedings are not being conducted with due promptitude by the presiding officers of trial courts.

Code of conduct for advocates

There should be a code of conduct for lawyers to ensure speedy conclusion of trials. Two tendencies on their part viz. ‘striking work on the drop of hat’ and ‘seeking endless adjournments’ should be curbed through appropriate legal provisions. One suggested provision could be with regard to renewal of license to practice as a lawyer by the Bar Council of India every five years. Data on ‘adjournments sought by the advocate’, collected through IT enabled system of monitoring court proceedings with appropriate weightage, should form an input for sanction of renewal of license.

Inequalities and inequities

Saner elements in the society have always pointed out the role played by the inequalities and inequities in society in the rising crime graphs, particularly of crime against women and children. This is a pretty serious issue and can be ignored only on grave peril. Despite the provisions, even though non-justiciable, contained in the article 38 of the Constitution of India, particularly in the sub-article 2, to remove inequalities and inequities, there is a sense that such inequalities and inequities have increased over time. This article of the Constitution should be amended, or other suitable statutory provision should be made, so as to provide for maintenance of appropriate statistical indices of such inequalities and inequities. The statute should also provide for mandatory parliamentary and legislative assembly debates on the performance of the governments in this respect for which the governments should be mandated to place annual reports in the Parliament and state legislatures. This will bring in some political accountability.

Mercy provisions

The mercy provisions should also be revisited and should be made invokeable only in cases of convicts on death row or other extreme cases requiring compassion. All other convicts should be made to serve their full terms. There should be no occasion for the governments to make announcements of remissions in convicts’ sentences. Requisite constitutional amendment should be made for this.

Above all society, of which the criminals as also policemen and judges are a part, needs to cultivate liberal ideals. Criminal laws are just not enough.

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