The Supreme Court held that a ‘victim‘ as defined in the Code of the Criminal Procedure, 1973 has a right to be heard at every step post the occurrence of offence, including the stage of adjudication of bail application of the accused.
What is the case?
- In October 2021, a convoy of three SUVs, allegedly ran over a group of protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri. This, followed by violence, led to death of 8 people.
- Following an investigation and chargesheet by an SIT (Special Investigation Team), the Allahabad High Court granted Ashish Mishra (one of the accused) bail in February, 2022.
- The kin of some of the victims then approached the Supreme Court contending that they were not heard when Ashish Mishra’s bail application was taken up by the Allahabad HC.
- The petitioners added that though they applied again, they were denied the opportunity to present their case.
What did the court observe?
- The Supreme Court has set aside the Allahabad High Court order of granting bail to the Lakhimpur Kheri case accused Ashish Mishra.
- The SC also remanded the matter back to the Allahabad High Court to consider afresh whether Mishra should be given bail or not after affording the victims’ families a hearing.
- The accused had challenged the right of the farmers’ families to independently challenge his bail in the Supreme Court.
- The Court held that the victim has to be heard by the courts at every stage — right from investigation to the end of the judicial trial, and especially during bail hearings of the accused.
- Criminal trials are not just between the accused and the State any more. The State does not take on the persona of the victim. The ‘victim’ or the de facto sufferer of the crime is an independent persona with an equal if not a greater right to participate in the quest for justice.
- The right of a victim to participate is “totally independent, incomparable and not accessory or auxiliary to those of the State”.
Right to be Heard & Right to be Present –
- Every person has the right to speak and be heard when allegations are being put towards him or her.
- The Latin maxim, ‘Audi Alteram Partem‘ (listen to the other side) is the principle of natural justice where every person gets a chance of being heard.
- The meaning of the maxim itself says no person shall be condemned unheard.
Rights of the Victims –
- The adoption by the General Assembly of the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power in 1985, which is considered as Magna Carta for the victims, has played an important role in defining the rights of victims in India.
- Right to Protection – Article 21 relates with the Human Rights of every person and thus has an equal Application for protection to an accused as well as the victim of a crime. To safeguard the human rights of every person is the duty of the State
- Right to Fair Investigation – The Supreme Court has given wider interpretation to Article 21 by recognising right to fair trial including right to fair investigation as part of right to life and liberty.
- Right to Attend – Crime victims and their families are given the right to be present during criminal justice proceedings. This right is important to victims, who often want to see the criminal justice process at work.
- Right to be Heard – One of the most significant rights for crime victims is the right to be heard during critical criminal justice proceedings that affect their interests. Such participation is the primary means by which victims play a proactive role in the criminal justice process.
Rights of the Accused –
- Article 20 – Article 20 says that “no person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of a law in force at the time of the commission of the act charged as an offence, nor be subjected to a penalty greater than that which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of the offence”. Thus, accused is given fair equality at par with other citizen.
- Article 22 – Article 22 talks that “No person shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest nor shall he be denied the right to consult and to be defended by, legal practitioner of his choice.”
- Rights of Free Legal Aid – A duty is imposed on all magistrates and courts to inform the indigent accused of his right to get free legal aid.
- Right to be present during Trial – Section 273 of the CrPC provides that all evidence and statements must be recorded in presence of the accused or his criminal lawyer.
- Right to Humane Treatment in Prison – The accused has a right to have all his human rights when in prison and be subjected to humane treatment by the prison authorities.