It is often said that India has a huge number of crimes but very few criminals. India’s conviction rate of 16% is one of the lowest in the world. This has been a portrayal of the state of the criminal justice system in the country. The Malimath Committee was hence set up to cure the system of the plague of inefficiency.
Though the recommendations were never acted on, the recent developments have attracted multifaceted reactions. The committee report was discussed in a conference in Telengana where PM Modi was present. Further, media has also suggested that the center might be revisiting the recommendations of the Committee. With this entire buzz around the Malimath Committee Recommendations, here is an overview of everything you need to know:
What is the Criminal Justice System?
The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “The system of law enforcement that is directly involved in apprehending, prosecuting, defending, sentencing, and punishing those who are suspected or convicted of criminal offenses.” Basically, it is a system of social control involving all institutions an accused has to deal with until the accusations are disposed or he is punished.
This includes Police officers, judges, lawyers, prison officials, probation officers, etc. The criminal justice system of a country plays an important role. It maintains law and order, prevents the occurrence of crime, compensates victims, and punishes criminals. Hence, it is very important to have a corruption free and efficient criminal justice system.
Need for Reformation in the Indian Criminal Justice System
The following reasons led to the formation of the Malimath Committee:
- Justice delayed is justice denied. 67.2% of prisoners in India are under trial. The judiciary is overburdened and has failed in providing speedy justice and deterring crime. Further, due to this, a large number of guilty go unpunished.
- The criminal justice system plays a significant role in up keeping the trust of the general public on the law of the land. An ineffective, corrupt, and incapable Criminal Justice System does the opposite.
- Investigation procedure and conflicting results have often been noticed. In cases like the Aarushi Talwar double murder case, the court has not been able to convict the guilty due to unscientific and inefficient procedures of investigation.
- The crime world is constantly evolving. New forms of committing crime have emerged with technology, and the justice system has to keep up. We live in an evolving world and cannot be stuck with old norms and laws require constant updating.
- The caretakers of law like the police require adequate training and accountability for performance. Subjectivity and professionalism of judges must be relooked. Prosecutors are underpaid, and trial courts are often accused of adjournment without any reason. All of this calls for a reformation in the system.
Creation of the Malimath Committee
The Malimath committee was constituted by the Home Ministry under the leadership of then Deputy PM and HM, LK Advani in 2000. The objective of the Committee was to examine the fundamental principles of law and recommend ways to reform the criminal justice system to restore public confidence injustice. It was headed by Justice VS Malimath, the former Chief Justice of Karnataka and Kerala. It submitted its report in 2003. The report has 158 recommendations, most of which was never applied.
The Committee recommended borrowing from the inquisitorial system of Germany where a judicial magistrate oversees the investigation. It was also in favor of the court has the power to summon anyone as a witness listed or not.
The panel wanted to ensure that the rights of the accused are well known and printed in regional languages along with information on whom to contact in case of denial of these rights.
Further, the Committee wanted to modify Article 20(3) of the constitution to allow the court to elicit information from the accused.
The Committee recommended setting up of National and State Security Commissions and appointment of an ADDL. SP in each district to organize crime data, organize special squads, and maintain the quality of investigation.
It also suggested the creation of a new post – The Director of Prosecution at the state level to ensure that there is coordination between the investigating team and the prosecuting officers.
The current ratio of population per judge is 19.77 million. Hence, the Committee was in favor of the National Judicial Commission having guidelines on qualifications, experience, etc. needed in a good judge. It also batted for a separate criminal division in higher courts with judges specialized in criminal law.
The Committee was also in favor of reducing the number of holidays by 21 days. It also suggested punishing false witness to mislead the court by up to 3 months of jail or a fine or both.
It also batted for a victim compensation fund under the victim compensation law and assets confiscated from organized crime was to be used here to provide justice and aid to victims.
The Committee emphasized the need for a central law on organized crime and terrorism even though crime is a state subject. One of its recommendations in this regard was to punish possession of automatic, semiautomatic, or lethal weaponry with a ten year prison sentence.
The panel also recommended replacing the death penalty with a life sentence without remission.
- Over time, a few recommendations of the Malimath Committee were included. They are as follows:
- The government accepted and permitted videography of statements by witnesses and the accused; this is implemented as of today
- As per the Committee’s recommendation, the definition of rape was expanded and non-penal, forceful penetration was included. Stricter punishments in grievous crimes like rape were also introduced.
- The Committee made a series of recommendations in regards to providing justice to victims. Though all of it was not implemented, victim compensation is now part of the law.
- The offences against women list were revised as per the Committee’s recommendation, new offences like domestic abuse found a place. Almost 1000 obsolete laws were removed.
- The government is in the process to create a Memorandum of procedure for appointment of judges in the High court and Supreme court to ensure the selection of skilled and professional judicial system
- The Legal Service Authority act and formation of Lok Adalats were also taken from the Committee’s recommendation.
- The government has also approved for a scheme to implement the objective of modernization of police forces.
The Committee recommended lowering the standard of proof in the court of law. The current “beyond reasonable doubt” system put the prosecution in an unreasonable burden. Hence, it suggested that a measure of “if the court is convinced” be used to evaluate facts of a case.
It means that if the prosecution convinces the court that it is true, it is considered true. This recommendation was accused as an illogical attempt to increase conviction rates. Further, this move would also go against the ideal of “innocent until proven guilty” and might lead to an innocent being punished.
The Committee also recommended making statements/ confessions made to a senior police officer (SP rank or above) be considered admissible by court. It also suggested increasing the custodial period granted to police from 15 to 30 days. In a country where the criminal justice system is often accused of torture, custodial deaths, and fake encounters, there was no surprise when this suggestion attracted criticisms.
The Malimath committee was widely appreciated for its other recommendations, and many of them were considered revolutionary. Its suggestions in providing justice to the victim of crimes can be the first step in undoing the wrongs faced by them. The idea of witness protection was widely approved. The Committee batted for an efficient witness protection system and suggested that the judge must be willing to step in if a witness is being harassed during cross examination.
Further, better facilities must be provided to witnesses. The Arrears Eradication scheme was also seen as important. The scheme was to tackle cases which were pending for more than two years in Lok Adalats on a priority basis with day to day hearing. The Committee’s proposal of periodic review of the criminal justice system was also appreciated. The Committee was lauded for its victim-friendly approach.
One of the major criticisms the Committee faced was that it was biased towards victims. Various steps recommended were for the right of the victims, but very few recommendations spoke about issues like torture or custodial deaths of accused. Further, the Committee’s recommendations were seen as an attempt to increase conviction rates even at the cost of justice
As an extension of the previous criticism, the recommendations were also accused of trying to weaken fair trial safeguards. The Indian Legal System is based on tenets of justice which gave some rights to the accused as well. These are often considered not compromisable. Further, revamping the criminal justice system should not mean undermining principles on which justice works. The two controversial recommendations were seen as problematic at various levels.
The report is also accused of increasing the burden on the court through its reforms, thus making it more ineffective. Greater infrastructure is required to implement a number of recommendations but no evaluation of India’s bandwidth to implement the same was made.
Further, the report has not included various important facets of the matter. A huge population does not have access to the judicial system, and this has been ignored. Measures for speedy trials and relief for under trial population was not mentioned. Though crimes against women have been addressed, crimes again Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has been ignored.
The Way Forward
The government’s decision to relook at the Committee’s report should only be seen as a step towards reforming the criminal justice system. Before taking any major decision, the government needs to hold debates and discussions with all stakeholders, including senior police officers, judges, etc.
There are some recommendations which can undeniably revolutionize the criminal justice system, whereas a few recommendations are feared to undermine the principles of justice. The best way to handle this would be to indulge in block implementation of recommendations from the most necessary ones to the least instead of completely ignoring the report.