A wrongful conviction can be described as the cases of miscarriage of justice wherein an innocent person are convicted and punished for a crime that he never committed.
There are many different reasons due to which the Courts end up making a wrongful conviction. Some of the main reasons for such miscarriage of justice are:
· Perjury or false accusation
· False confession
· Forensic science problems
· Official misconduct
· Mistaken identification
Up to date, there are many such cases of wrongful conviction in India. Ali Mohammad Bhat, a carpet weaver from Kashmir, was wrongfully imprisoned by the Indian state for 23 years on the trumped-up charges of terrorism in connection with 1996 Lajpat Nagar blast. Assam’s Madhubala Mondal, a 59-year-old woman, was wrongfully detained and jailed for 3 years as a result of “mistaken” identity by police. The main question which arises is how these victims are compensated for the years they spent being jailed due to the mistake of the Judiciary/State.
There is a famous saying that even if a hundred guilty persons are acquitted, one innocent should not be convicted. Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum is the principle followed by our Indian Justice system which means “Let justice be done though the heavens fall”. Even then, there has been a rise in the number of wrongful convictions. This requires that, at the very minimum, these victims must be compensated adequately.
Victim compensation is an arrangement or scheme under which the victims are compensated for the hardships they have faced. This remedy would be available at the end of a criminal trial. Sec 357 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) provides that the Court can collect the penalty from the accused and use the amount to compensate the victim. Sec 357Aof CrPC directs various States to set up a compensation fund in cases where the accused is acquitted or the amount collected under Sec 357 is not sufficient.
However, the “accused” in these cases is usually a person or a group of persons. These provisions for compensating the victims do not apply to cases where the Judiciary/State has committed the mistake of wrongful conviction. The victims of wrongful convictions can only file a suit for the tort of malicious prosecution.
The Constitution of India guarantees the Right to life and personal liberty to all its citizens under Art 21. The State itself violates these rights when a person is wrongfully jailed or detained. In some cases, the alleged accused has also been subjected to capital punishment, only to find some shreds of evidence later which proves that he was innocent. The State, whose very existence is to guarantee protection to its citizens, can return neither life nor liberty of the person if they have been wrongfully taken away. Even if wrongfully taking away of life is not that frequent in India, wrongful denial of liberty is unbridled.
AN INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides under Art 14(6) that the signatories are required to take steps to ensure the right to compensation for wrongful imprisonment and detention. Art 9(5) also provides that the victims shall have an enforceable right to compensation. This provision which is adopted by many countries across the world stems from a very simple principle: If the State, in its performance of sovereign functions, has wrongfully taken away the life or liberty of an individual, it needs to rectify it.
Many countries in consonance with ICCPR have implemented their own statutory provisions for victim compensation. In the United Kingdom, the Criminal Justice Act of 1988 has been implemented. Under sections 133, 133A, and 133Bof the Act, the Secretary of State, shall pay compensation to the persons who have suffered punishment as a result of a wrongful conviction. In Germany, a similar provision has been provided under Art 34 in the Constitution of Germany, 1949. The United States which is often known as the champions of Human Rights has provided dual liability of the government, both through state and federal laws. Even though India is a signatory, it made reservations regarding this aspect when it signed and ratified ICCPR, thus allowing it to turn a blind eye to this requirement.
REMEDIES UNDER THE INDIAN LAW
In India, there are no clear cut provisions or compensation scheme which allows the victims to seek redressal. However, there are certain groups of remedies for miscarriage of justice:
1. Public law remedy:
This remedy finds its roots in the Supreme Law of the Land, the Constitution. Art 21 provides the right to life and personal liberty of every citizen. Art 32and Art 226 provide provisions for constitutional remedies in form of writ petitions, including victim compensation.
2. Private law remedy:
The private law remedy for wayward acts of the State exists in the form of a civil suit against the State and its officials. This remedy is available in form of monetary damages. In reference to this, under Art 300of the constitution, the government of India can be sued in its name.
3. Criminal law remedy:
Chapter IX of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with the offences done by the Public Servants. Chapter XI deals with false evidence and offences against public justice and delineates the obstruction of justice. It punishes any instances of tampering with the investigation, prosecution, trial and other criminal proceedings by the investigating agency such as police officials and prosecution.
However, the victims of wrongful convictions do not have any direct way to get compensation. The Law Commission in its 277th report suggested certain amendments to CrPC to address the issue of compensation for wrongful convictions. It has urged the Indian Government to honor its commitments internationally and also to its citizens by acknowledging its accountability to law. This provision will apply to cases where the police or prosecution has falsely, maliciously, negligently, or ignorantly convicted a wrong person. The Commission also presented a draft amendment bill for CrPC but the Parliament has not paid heed to it till now.
ACCOUNTABILITY BY THE STATE
In most cases, the Indian Judiciary is reluctant to admit their mistake in convicting the wrong person. In July 2016, the Supreme Court refused to entertain the compensation pleas of six persons, who had been wrongfully detained for eleven years, on the ground that it would result in a dangerous phenomenon. Instead of denying compensation for the fear that it would open a lot of such similar cases, the Court should face it head-on by bringing a uniform scheme of compensation for the wrongfully convicted accused.
There have also been instances of cases where the State has been held accountable. In Rudul Sah V. State of Bihar, recognizing the violation of rights under Art 21 of the constitution, the Supreme Court ordered the Bihar government to pay Rs. 30,000 for detaining the petitioner for fourteen years after his acquittal. In the case of Bhim Singh V. State of Jammu and Kashmir , the Supreme Court directed the J & K government to pay Rs. 50,000 to an MLA who was illegally detained and not produced before the magistrate within 24 hours of his arrest. The Supreme Court provided compensation of 50 lakhs to former ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan, 24 years after he was illegally detained on the charge of leaking official secrets to a spy racket. These cases serve as a rare example of accountability by the State. These cases highlight the arbitrary decisions of the Courts while deciding the amount of compensation. It also provides an insight into the problem of ad-hoc compensation schemes and the need for uniform or a standard provision to avoid discrepancies in its application.
Nemo est supra leges means “Nobody is above the law”. This includes the State and the Judiciary. Thus, the State should consider the plight of the victims and help these people overcome the difficulties faced by them due to wrongful prosecution.
When our criminal system convicts wrong persons, it does not serve justice. Instead, it creates more victims. Most of these victims lose their family, job and many other important things in life due to the mistake of the State. They have to lose their freedom, their reputation and also live under the moral repercussions of conviction in society even after they are exonerated. Many of the victims need emotional support for years even after being released. When our system takes pride in a system where the individuals are innocent until proven guilty, they also have an obligation to correct and prevent these devastating tragedies. Even one innocent person in prison is always one too many. This creates a need for a uniform law for compensation based on the unfairness and hardship faced by the victims.
This blog is authored by K.Keerthana
Rudul Sah V. State of Bihar (1983) 4 SCC 141
 Bhim Singh V. State of Jammu and Kashmir, AIR 1986 SC 494
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