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Is occasional swift justice a failure of law?

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Wed, Nov 10, 2010 at 17:24 IST (last updated: Wed, Nov 10, 2010 @ 18:18 IST)

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Judge's mallet The recent "encounter" killing of Mohan, the accused in the heinous case of kidnap, rape and murder of a 10 year old girl and the murder of her brother near Coimbatore has brought forth the usual and expected reactions both from the general public and the human rights groups.

The general public are jubilant about the swift "divine" intervention of justice while Human Rights groups are raising a holy stink over the whole episode calling for heads to roll in the police department. I don't subscribe to either extreme viewpoints entirely, but I do lean slightly in favour of public opinion on this particular episode and I'll explain why.

I am not going to analyze the crime in depth or get into an emotional appeal for justice. It was a heinous deed and the criminal who perpetrated this act deserved the ultimate penalty: death. I am all for the rule of law. I firmly believe that every accused deserves a fair trial and just, equitable punishment if found guilty. The technicalities of criminal law are friendly to the accused and rightly so. It does allow some criminals to get away when the quality of admissible evidence does not measure up to the high standard of proof required in criminal jurisprudence. And society is perfectly prepared to allow this happen on occasion because the onus of proof must never shift to the accused to prove innocence in any case in a modern civilized democratic society.

All this is understood.

However I am not going all out to condemn the police for their killing of this prisoner or accuse the police department of wholesale tyranny. It is important to maintain a sense of balance and perspective. Nobody knows the truth of the matter as yet. Who knows what pressures the police work under in stressful, dangerous and difficult conditions? It is extremely hard for any human agency (including trained policemen) to be completely dispassionate and rational while dealing regularly with hardened criminals and unsavoury elements of society. So how is it possible to either believe or disbelieve the police version of the incident without an in-depth inquiry? I make no judgments here.

No rational human being would deny that the accused in this case did deserve to be tried properly by a court of law. Technically he was innocent before conviction. He should have been put through the trial process in court. Without doubt he would have been given the death penalty if found guilty and acquitted if there was any doubt of his guilt. And from the plain facts of this specific case as reported by the media, even a layman with no legal training can deny that a verdict of guilty appeared to the most likely scenario. What I do believe is that sometimes our human laws and legal systems cannot prevent a greater justice from taking over. Too often we focus too much on the purity and technicalities of legal processes while ignoring the bigger picture of justice.

Why then are the human rights organizations so worked up over this particular encounter? They are so quick to condemn any incident involving the death of an accused in police custody as a "fake encounter" and immediately start peddling FUD about society descending into violent chaos and anarchy if law was allowed to be taken into the hands of private individuals (or a few police officers). Why do they not adhere to their own high standards of jurisprudence and reserve judgment and wait till a complete inquiry is conducted into the episode? After all, if the police personnel involved actually acted in a mala-fide manner, it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt too and that takes time. Why do they choose to pressurize the media and the police in instances like this when it is clear that the end result cannot be changed?

The (very valid and entirely understandable) point about police brutality or excesses might have carried more conviction and indeed public sympathy if human rights groups had chosen a more appropriate time and setting to raise their concerns. The protests against the police in this instance were inappropriate and tasteless to say the least, considering that the parents of the murdered children are still in shock and trauma. What is wrong with waiting for a decent period of time to elapse before raising the bigger principles and issues involved in this case? Human rights activists consistently score self-goals and devalue their own causes by choosing inappropriate instances to raise broad sweeping social concerns.

It is understood that in a democratic society the police must not act in an extra-judicial manner and murder accused prisoners in fake "encounters". That much is admitted. However I don't believe that such instances are the norm. This one case will not disrupt the rule of law or subvert it. This single instance does not demonstrate society's loss of faith in the judiciary. Occasionally criminals are lynched by angry mobs and nothing can prevent it. Occasionally policemen fire in a moment of anger and kill criminals or bystanders. The guilty are frequently acquitted and some innocent victims of circumstances do get convicted by mistake. Life is not perfect.

The real problem is that human rights groups and advocates are too often prone to quick generalizations, exaggerations and doomsday scenarios and refuse to analyze issues in their entirety. If they actually worried as much about the crime rate in the country and focussed their efforts on curtailing and preventing crime and rehabilitating victims of crime, such issues would actually never arise.

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2 comment(s)

  1. I think that due process is the only way to avoid making a mistake. Sometimes, it appears that a swift resolution may be alright, but there is no recourse if a swift decision was made without enough fact. I agree with you.

    Comment by MrCorey (visitor) on Tue, Nov 16, 2010 @ 20:18 IST #
  2. Certainly MrCorey. What I was against is the knee-jerk and excessive reactions of human rights groups who almost always over-react to such episodes and destroy their own credibility.

    The public image developed by Human Rights groups is that they're a bunch of loonies whose main purpose appears to be to protect hardened criminals and offenders from the sword of justice. This image is bound to hurt their cause.

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Wed, Nov 17, 2010 @ 08:37 IST #

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