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Vigilante Justice: When the justice system is too slow or fails to hold up justice

Vigilante Justice: When the justice system is too slow or fails to hold up justice

By Byomakesha Kumar Singh

There’s an old saying, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” The saying is apt when it comes to Indian justice system. Our justice system is so snail paced that even if justice happens, it comes after a long time when it is not worth it.

“Two third of the prisoners are under trials”, reported the ‘Prison Statistics India 2015’, released by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Among the larger States, at 82.4 per cent, Bihar had the highest proportion of undertrials, followed by Jammu & Kashmir (81.5 per cent), Odisha (78.8 per cent), Jharkhand (77.1 per cent) and Delhi (76.7 per cent). Now, that’s a whooping number. The report mentions overcrowding as “one of the biggest problems faced by prison inmates.” It results in poor hygiene and lack of sleep among other problems. “Keeping in view the human rights of the prisoners, it is essential that they are given reasonable space and facilities in jails,” the report says.[2]

Clearly, not only the failure to deliver judgements at a proper time leads to denial of justice but also deaths of innocents. In Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar,[3] the apex court realised the urgency to do something for the under trials that they released many under trials on personal bond. Further, the court emphasised on the need for speedy justice. However, this emphasis couldn’t become practical.

Also, it has been held that death penalty should be used in ‘rarest of rare cases.’[4] A crime meets ‘rarest of the rare case’ when it ‘shockes’ the community’s “’collective conscience.’ This leaves room for arbitrary and disproportionate application of death penalty. But as has been mentioned by Shashi Tharoor, in his book ‘The Paradoxical Prime Minister’, that the courts have not been able to deliver death penalty in a fair and reasonable manner. He quoted this from the Law Commission’s report. Rather, it is the poor section of the society which is vastly at the receiving end of death penalty.

Furthermore, the poor have to go to courts almost everyday for petty things, however there are cases when rich are exempted from doing so. The Salman Khan controversy is one such thing. Even though he is roaming free but the common man of the country knows that he isn’t innocent. Does that mean justice comes with a price tag?

The concept of “anticipatory bail”, under section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was introduced, which allowed a person to apply for a bail even before he gets convicted. This was done to ensure that there is no overcrowding in jails and that the number of undertrials don’t increase. However, this provision has not been able to achieve what it was expected to achieve.

There are many reasons why there are a huge number of under trials in India. Some reasons are incapability to pay for a bail, systematic delays, presidei=ing judges on leave, lack of judges in courts, etc.

It is thought that from the various schemes the government operates for rural employment, loans to farmers etc, a portion of the funds which it transfers to the panchayat for developmental work of the same should be set aside and kept to meet the bail amount for undertrials belonging to the particular panchayat / block. The utilization of this fund would be in the hands of the elected leaders of the society with the representative of district collector district magistrate being a part of the system. This would, go a long way in securing freedom for scores of undertrials who would then be able to contribute to society thereby playing an important role and forming part of the national mainstream. Such a scenario will have the effect of reducing the burden of over-crowding in jail.[5]

The setting up of separate jails, or at any rate isolating undertrials from convicts, would prevent hardened criminals from exercising their deleterious influence over undertrials. Such segregation would also change the attitude of jail authorities and society at large towards under trials.
The under trials who have been charged with petty crimes can further be put in reformative homes instead and asked to do community service till the time they are released on bail. Elementary education facilities must be granted to those under trials who are uneducated and illiterate. Thus, I feel that the benefit of bail should not only be in the hands of a few, but, should be available to the masses including those who do not have the financial capacity to afford it.

The Supreme Court has expressed its concerns for this huge number of undertrials and ordered the undertrial review committees (UTRCs) to meet every month for the first six months of 2019 to review the cases of undertrial inmates and submit reports to the legal services authorities in states.[6]

Even though the Supreme Court is trying its best to achieve that there is n delay of justice, there is a long way to go like appointment of judges in the lower courts.[7] This is one of the biggest problems that our country is facing. Even the law minister urged the students of National Law Universities to join judiciary. So, a huge responsibility lies on the soon to be law graduates as well. Until and unless every person does not receive justice, “justice delayed is justice denied” will be a practical thing forever.

[1] Byomakesha Kumar Singh, 3rd Year, National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam.


[3] Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar, AIR 1979.

[4] Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab AIR 1980 SC 898, CriLJ 636.




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