Saturday, May 21, 2011

Judges have to beware of bloodthirsty mobs

A. Raja. Suresh Kalmadi. Now Kanimozhi. Journalists seem to believe like ordinary people that being sent to jail proves their guilt. Journalists do not want to pat attention to due processes, and distinguish between investigation and final conviction. And how verdicts of one court overturned at the appellate level. But given the notoriously short span of attention of television news channel viewers as well as electronic media journalists -- reporters and anchors/anchoresses -- every one is ready to conclude that justice has been done once Raja, Kalmadi, Kanimozhi and others being denied bail, and made to taste the humiliation of being sent off to prison.

A member of the DMK who is also a lawyer, who did not wish to be named, explained that in law, granting of bail is the norm, and rejection of bail is the exception. The prosecution has to cite powerful reasons to plead for the exceptional need for the court to deny bail to an accused. He feels that nowadays rejection of bail has become the norm. He thinks that it is due mostly due to the pressure that the media -- especially the electronic media -- creates about the accused who happen to be high profile. This is indeed trial by media.

This is good political drama perhaps, but not a very good thing in law. Justice needs to be done. And the corollary that justice should not only be done but should be seen to be done does not seem to be sound in the television era because it can turn out that justice can be seen to be done but it is not done. That is grave injustice indeed.

There is need to recall the case of A.R. Antulay, former chief minister of Maharashtra. In the 1980s, crusader editors like Arun Shourie of Indian Express, proved through screaming headlines and reports that Antulay was a wrongdoer based on a high court judgment. No one paused to think that there was the option of appeal to the Supreme Court. The apex court overturned the judgment against Antulay. But by that time, the crusaders moved on and the judicial exoneration that Antulay earned was pushed over the edge as it were.

There is the real danger that many of those accused in the ongoing scams, whether it be the 2G spectrum allocation or the Commonwealth Games, whether it be Raja, Kalmadi, Kanomozhi or others could escape for sheer lack of clear evidence if nothing else. Yes. Many a time justice is not done, and given the imperfections of any system run by fallible human beings, it does happen that the guilty escape and the innocents get punished. That is why, the basic principle of common law: Let a hundred guilty escape but not one innocent person should be punished. There is a real need to remember this.

The mob mentality of hanging a suspect in the literal and metaphorical senses is a dangerous thing, which has to be avoided at all costs. There is the animal instinct in every human being, perhaps more pronounced among politicians and journalists than among others, to kick someone when he or she is down. This does not help the cause of justice in any way.


The judges have a greater responsibility in this inflammable situation. They should not let any other consideration except that of law guide their decision. They have to shut out the bloodthirsty cries of the mob to punish people. That is what the mob did in front of Roman governor in Judaea, Pontius Pilate, when they demanded that the rebel Barabas be freed and the innocent man called Jesus of Nazareth be crucified. Down the centuries, the mob has always demand, "Crucify this man' 'Crucify that man'. Pilate washed his hands off. But the judges cannot do so.

1 comment:

Alok said...

Of course the line which demarcate between being held guilty by a court of law and in public eyes is getting blurred. But it is an extra- ordinary situation which is throwing up unique may be unsavoury solutions.Law makers turning into law breakers on a massive scale cannot just be brushed aside as normal thing to be sorted out in normal couse of law.

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