Wrongful conviction is one of the most fundamental misdeeds conducted by the state. The Delhi High Court in Babloo Chauhan v N.C.T Delhi[i] held that 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 provided to them. Wrongful conviction is the malady of our criminal justice system. India, being an inquisitorial system, the burden is on the prosecution to prove that an individual has committed crime. But often in the zeal of seeking justice, it punishes and prosecutes the wrong individual which is far much worse. There an old saying that a hundred murderers should be let out but not one innocent should suffer. Sadly, the reality of our criminal justice system is that, people are languishing in jail due to wrongful convictions are there is no adequate and appropriate remedy for them.
The concept of jail is a very elusive concept. Not many know the actual conditions of jails in India. They are in pathetic shape some lacking in even the basic necessities of life like an appropriate space to rest and sanitation. In the twenty first century when the criminal justice systems around the worlds are slowly moving on from a retributive to a reformative, this is a violation of the basic principle of human dignity. Living in such conditions as a convict is miserable, and individuals who are innocent, but wrongfully prosecuted by the state, it shatters their entire belief in the justice delivery system.
The concept of wrongful convictions in India, is not a new concept. It has been taking since time immemorial. From the British Sarkar to the Modi Sarkar, this concept has only increased. In India, there a lack of compensation scheme or legal mechanism, this allows the state to be punished for its mistakes. Thus the victims of justice delivery system often knock on the doors of courts to seek redressal. There are a plethora of cases which adjudicated upon by the various courts of our country which show this.
Article 21 of the constitution guarantees to each and every individual the right to personal liberty and live their life with dignity. This right to live with dignity is not mere animal existence, but to live in a free society in which they are protected by the atrocities of the state. The infringement of fundamental right due to police atrocities and prosecutorial misconduct, evokes that state liability and it cannot shelter itself under the garb of sovereign powers. The state must compensate the individuals for wrongs committed by it and by its agents or servants. Though the constitution is silent on the concept of compensation, however, judiciary over the years have evolved the compensatory jurisprudence wherein the state is imposed with liability for the violations of human rights. In this case also, miscarriage of justice, being one the most essential human guaranteed to humans, the state has the duty to compensate the victims for the wrongful convictions.
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[ii], 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[iii], 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[iv], 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[v], 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[vi]., 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.
Wrongful Conviction is a violation of human rights. Thus the concept has been enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1945. The United Nations Human Rights Committee also has elaborated that States must enact a suitable legislation to ensure that compensation is paid to the victims in case of wrongful convictions and that the payment is made within a reasonable time frame. Further, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 was a path breaking declaration signed and adopted by the world community to prevent miscarriage of justice. ICCPR confers an obligation upon the State to prevent the cases of miscarriage of justice resulting from wrongful conviction. Under Article 14(6) of ICCPR the State has to compensate the victim for a wrongful conviction provided that the conviction was final, and was later reversed or pardoned on the ground of that he was innocent.
Many states in consonance with the above mentioned guidelines have implemented their own statutory provision. In United Kingdom’s, the Criminal Justice Act of 1988 has been implemented. Under sections 133, 133A, and 133B of the Act, the Secretary of State, shall pay compensation to a person who has suffered punishment as a result of a wrongful conviction, subject to specific conditions. In Germany, a similar provision has been provided under Article 34 in the Constitution of Germany, 1949. The United States, often known as the champions of human rights have provided dual liability of the government, both through state and federal laws.
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.
The Supreme Court in Ram Lakhan Singh v. State Government of Uttar Pradesh[vii], held that in cases of wrongful prosecution, it is an infringement of a fundamental right of individual. It is an abuse of process of law. Thus the courts in such a case have the power to order the State to pay compensation to the aggrieved party to rehabilitate him and set as example of deterrence.
Though, innumerable cases have been decided by the Supreme Courts and High Courts, however, there is no set framework for determining the merits of right to compensation or the quantum of compensation is determined. Compensation as a form of public remedy for violation of fundamental rights is not expressly provided in the Constitution of India. This concept has been evolved by the courts. It is a remedy which is determined on case-to-case basis and thus is very much dependent on the facts and circumstances of each case. Thus, this remedy can be arbitrary, sporadic and indeterminate.
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[viii] 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[ix], 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[x], 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.
In Mohd. Jalees Ansari & Ors. v. Central Bureau of Investigation[xi], the accused had been taken in to police custody in the year 1994, then booked for a bomb blast in Hyderabad under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA), and subsequently for bomb blasts again in 1993. A confession was made the accused and he was sent to a prison in Ajmer, where he spent the next 23 years during which a TADA court convicted him and gave him life sentence. In 2016, the matter reached the Supreme Court, wherein the court overturned the TADA court’s decision, ruling that the confession was not true and taken under duress and being the sole basis of the conviction didn’t have legal sanction and was inadmissible. Finally, after 23 long years of wrongful imprisonment, Nissarudin was exonerated of all charges.
There are also some procedural safeguards in various the State Police Acts and rules. Further, various High Court manuals too have provisions and rules about the wrongful convictions and state’s liability in such cases.
Challenges to Seek Redressal
The Supreme Court in Thana Singh v. Central Bureau of Narcotics[xii], 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is wrongful conviction?
Wrongful conviction is a form of conviction secured by an individual who is innocent due the state’s negligence. It is form of miscarriage of justice which violates the basic principle of law and results in an erroneous conviction or prosecution. It can be intentional or malicious, but many of time, in fact it is due to the sheer callousness of authorities.
What is Miscarriage of Justice?
It is the departure from the rules that permeates all judicial procedure so as to make the resulting proceedings not in the proper sense of the word ‘judicial procedure’ at all. It is a 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.
What are the remedies available against wrongful convictions?
In India, there a lack of compensation scheme or legal mechanism which allows the state to be punished for its mistakes. There is no clear cut provisions in the statutes which provide the victims to seek redressal. However, 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.
What are suggestions to secure to ensure that wrongful convictions do not take place?
There must be compensation scheme or legal mechanism which allows the state to be punished for its mistakes. There must be clear cut provisions in the statutes which provide the victims to seek redressal. 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.
Edited by Shikhar Shrivastava
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i] 247 (2018) DLT 31
[ii] AIR 1947 PC 19.
[iii] AIR 1981 SC 1415
[iv] AIR 1962 SC 1788
[v] AIR 2013 SC 336
[vi] AIR 2013 SC 2059If
[vii] (2015) 16 SCC 715
[viii] A.I.R. 1962 S.C.933
[ix] AIR 1980 Pat 267
[x] Delhi High Court Order dated 22 November 2012 in Criminal Appeal Nos. 948, 949, 950 and 951 of 2010.
[xi] AIR 2016 SC 2461.
[xii] 2(2013) 2 SCC 590