Is the judiciary going soft on murderers and rapists
Judges are actually given too much discretion
The judgment given in any case depends on the proceedings of the court and the judge's discretion. The standards adopted in a particular case may differ in the high court and Supreme Court. There are certain guidelines for a death sentence and it must be a 'rarest of the rare' case. Thus, there is no question of whether a judgement is 'right' or 'wrong' . It all depends on how the bench of judges perceive the case based on the submitted proof. The outlook of judges of a bench may also differ. There is no standardisation in the verdict to be pronounced. However, I would like to point out that judges are given too much discretion. In the end, judges base their verdict on the proof put forth after investigations.
-PB Sawant, former judge, Supreme Court of India
Leniency on the part of the Supreme Court is not justified
In our country, a death sentence is pronounced only in the 'rarest of rare' cases. The court makes its decision on the basis of evidence and the investigation carried out, but the punishment should be awarded in such a way that justice actually prevails. The reason that the judges gave for reducing the death sentence of the convict in the Priyadarshini Mattoo case are dubious. There is no justification for such a dreadful crime. It is different in a case where the victim is alive and the accused offers to marry the victim.
While upholding that he was guilty of the crime, the judges cited mitigating circumstances, which included the young age of the accused at the time of the murder and his having married and become a father. These factors cannot reduce the gravity of a crime that was premeditated and executed in the most brutal manner.
This kind of leniency on the part of the Supreme Court is not justified. The verdict in such a case should act as a deterrent to others as well. Leniency would make people feel that anyone can get away with such a gruesome offence. Rape and murder of a victim is a very serious crime. The commutation of the verdict is not justified.
-Kiran Moghe, president, Janwadi Mahila Sanghatana
Has justice been served?
Priyadarshini Mattoo case
A former IPS officer's son, Santosh Kumar Singh, who was convicted of brutally raping and murdering 25-year-old Priyadarshini Mattoo 14 years ago, escaped the death sentence when the Supreme Court set aside the Delhi high court's order and gave him a life term.
The SC said the "horrendous crime" had happened because Santosh's parents were over-indulgent. The judges said many ghastly crimes happen when "an accused belongs to a category with unlimited power or pelf or even more dangerously, a volatile cocktail of the two".
The apex court added that Singh was young at the time of the incident, and after his acquittal by the trial court he got married and became a father, and there was nothing to suggest that he was not capable of reforming.
A fast track sessions court convicted cab driver Shiva Kumar to rigorous imprisonment for life for kidnapping, raping and murdering BPO employee Pratibha Srikantamurthy in December 2005.
Pratibha, who joined HP Globalsoft in 2005 after her marriage, went missing on December 13, 2005 after leaving home for her night shift. Her body was found on the outskirts of Bangalore a day later.
The 113-page judgement said, "There was no dominating control over the deceased. She was not a helpless woman," adding the crime was not enormous in nature and not in the "rarest of rare" bracket. The judge said Kumar, who was 22 then, is now 27. He was not a habitual offender and the prosecution had not shown that he had been convicted for crime earlier, he said.
Without harsh punishment, people will not fear the law
In rape-murder cases, the law is not as harsh as it should be. Thus, there is no fear in society when it comes to committing these crimes. Take any rape or criminal case; the time it takes to reach a verdict is very long. When the fast track courts take that much time (five years in Pratibha's case), why do we need them at all? In this way, people will lose faith in fast track courts. They will be dissatisfied with our judicial system if there is no change in the procedures, especially in cases involving atrocities against women. Such soft judgements will obviously have consequences, wherein people will not be afraid of committing crimes against women. Moreover, by commuting a death sentence, you give the accused time to find ways to get free.
Capital punishment is criticised vehemently on moral grounds, so we do not have an option but to replace it. However, if it is stopped, bad elements in society will continue committing such crimes.
-Lata Bhise, advisor, Yashada
The judgement cannot be made on the basis of public opinion
Life imprisonment until death is as bad or may be worse than a death sentence. Capital punishment is not required as long as the guilty is being punished for his crime. In fact, a life term is more severe as the convict has to live with his guilt in isolation.
People expected a death sentence in the Priyadarshini case, but the judgement cannot be based on public opinion. Mob mentality tends to be brutal, so the judiciary should not get influenced by what people think. Every murder is heinous, but the 'rarest of rare' case can be applied only to the most gruesome crimes.
-Ritu Lamba, law student
Such acts go against the norms of humanity and compassion
The Priyadarshini Mattoo case has revived the debate over whether capital punishment should be awarded and if it can deter others from committing such crimes. Our Constitution and statutes recognise capital punishment as a deterrent to heinous crimes. In case of a crime as gruesome and merciless as rape and murder, the convict should certainly be granted a death penalty. Such acts go against the norms of humanity and compassion. Anything less than life imprisonment until death should not be acceptable.
As far as the Supreme Court verdict in this case is concerned, the death sentence should not have been reduced to life imprisonment. Keeping in view the heinousness of the crime, the court should have upheld the previous decision and stood by it.
-Sameer Nargolkar, lawyer
Severity of punishment is not a deterrent to crime
Death penalty must be abolished in India because it is a cruel way of punishing someone. It is surprising that the lower courts are enthusiastic in awarding death sentences. A capital punishment with the noose does not go well in a civilised society. If we call ourselves civilised, we must stop this practice. The severity of punishment does not act as a deterrent to crime. The surety and speedy delivery of punishment is more important. People generally feel that life imprisonment is a soft way of punishing someone. Considering the severity of the crime, courts can prolong the period of imprisonment. In case of Priyadarshini, the accused got a life term till death, which is a severe punishment.
-Ramesh Awasthi, founder, MASUM
Flaws in investigation and filing of cases affect judgement
There are two issues in the trial of rape cases — the time required by the court and the quantum of punishment. Both these clauses must be revisited and given a rethink. Two judges can differ in their judgement because the circumstantial evidence may vary. That is how they may arrive at different conclusions. A judge has to decide on the basis of the evidence placed in front of him. If the investigation done by the police is shabby, it can affect the judgment.
I agree that the way rape-murder cases are handled needs to be debated, but it is wrong to criticise the judges and their judgement. Many issues have to be considered in every case. Moreover, if the judgement is based on the investigation, collection of evidence and the way the case is filed, the judge can only do so much. I would say that investigation agencies are the real culprits. One must be persistent in pointing out the flaws in the investigation process and filing of cases.
-Aroona Nafday, advocate
There is a rise in false rape cases, so a court has to be cautious
One cannot say the law has been soft in both cases. The judges have given their verdict based on circumstantial evidence and the investigation reports. The investigation into a case and collection of evidence are the reason for delayed judgements. A court cannot pronounce a verdict without proper facts and data. Cases get prolonged till judges receive the essential proof.
In a recent report, the Pune police said that 74% of rape cases in 2008-2009 were found to be instances of consensual sex. Moreover, there have been cases in which the accused has been falsely implicated. For example, in the case of the American student of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai last year, the medical report did not confirm rape and the DNA report was negative. The complainant told the doctor she was raped by three men whose names she did not know. However, in the FIR, she accused six men and named them. Then, she claimed that she may have been raped, but that she had fallen unconscious after 1 in the night. On the other hand, phone records show that she was texting and calling all night. Thus, in such a case, circumstances become confusing and the judicial process cannot be hurried. Due to the high number of false rape cases and women-centric laws, the court has to ensure that a person is not falsely implicated.
I am not denying that rapes do not happen and the real culprit has to be punished, however, the case has to follow the required process of investigation before a judgement is given.
-Atit Rajpora, activist, Save Indian Family Foundation
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