New Delhi: As politicians, movie stars and the public at large revel in the extra-judicial killing of four men suspected of involvement in the Hyderabad rape and murder case, it was left to India’s top judge to strike a note of sanity and remind everyone that justice cannot be ‘instant’ and is not served by “revenge”.
Speaking at an event in Jodhpur, Chief Justice S.A. Bobde said that recent events had sparked a debate about the time it takes to dispose of a criminal matter. “There is no doubt that the criminal justice system must reconsider its position, its attitudes towards time, towards laxity and towards the time it takes to dispose of a criminal matter,” he said.
“But I don’t think justice can ever be and ought to be instant. And justice must never ever take the form of revenge. I believe justice loses its character of justice if it becomes revenge.”
#WATCH: Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad Arvind Bobde: I don’t think justice can ever be or ought to be instant. And justice must never ever take the form of revenge. I believe justice loses its character of justice if it becomes a revenge. pic.twitter.com/oKIHKecHqt
— ANI (@ANI) December 7, 2019
The chief justice’s comments come even as politicians like Jaya Bachchan, who had earlier suggested the four accused should be lynched publicly, commenting that their death in the ‘encounter’ was “better late than never (“der aaye durust aaye“). Delhi Commission for Women chief Swati Maliwal has also said that the accused in the rape of a woman from Unnao should be “hanged within a month“.
In this context, Chief Justice Bobde’s words serve as a reminder that giving social and political sanction to encounter killings and abandoning due process would derail the criminal justice system.
The Supreme Court has already dealt with the issue of encounter killings, holding the right to life paramount. In a September 2014 judgment, apex court Justices R.M. Lodha and R.F. Nariman said that the right to life under Article 21 is available to every person and that even the state “has no authority to violate that right”.
Even as the bench acknowledged the “difficult and delicate” task that the police are executed to perform, it highlighted why encounter killings should be investigated independently.
“Killings in police encounters require independent investigation. The killings in police encounters affect the credibility of the rule of law and the administration of the criminal justice system.”
“We are not oblivious of the fact that police in India has to perform a difficult and delicate task, particularly, when many hardcore criminals, like, extremists, terrorists, drug peddlers, smugglers who have organized gangs, have taken strong roots in the society but then such criminals must be dealt with by the police in an efficient and effective manner so as to bring them to justice by following rule of law.”
For the sake of accountability, the bench issued certain guidelines to ensure that an independent investigation is conducted into the encounter killings by police.