Wrongful Prosecution-Victim's Rights And State's Obligations

Article 21 of the Constitution of India ("Constitution") confers, on every person, the fundamental rights of life and personal liberty. As per this Article, "No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law." The Hon'ble Supreme Court in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, (1978) 1 SCC 248, while re-defining the contour of Article 21 of Constitution had, inter alia, held that the procedure envisaged under this Article must be "right, just and fair" and not "arbitrary, fanciful or oppressive". Further, the Hon'ble Supreme Court in Hussainara Khatoon (I) v. Home Secy., State of Bihar, (1980) 1 SCC 81, recognizing the right to speedy trial as one of the offshoots of the rights conferred under Article 21 of the Constitution has held, "No procedure which does not ensure a reasonably quick trial can be regarded as "reasonable, fair or just" and it would fall foul of Article 21."

The Indian justice system works on the principle of, "Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum1". Despite this, instances of malicious prosecution2/ conviction and wrongful incarceration of innocent persons are quite common. In all such cases, individuals who are wrongfully prosecuted, implicated and incarcerated for several precious years of their lives, even on an honorable acquittal, have not much to gain. Besides being forced to live under social stigma, absence3 of statutory provisions or state mechanisms providing for rehabilitative, restorative and compensatory measures to such victims and their family members (who suffer equally), aggravates their agony.

Courts in India have often expressed their concerns on the pitiable conditions of the under trial prisoners4 and in appropriate cases, to an extent, compensated for the wrong done to such victims of malicious and wrongful prosecution, detention and conviction. However, there is no uniform mechanism which ensures remedy in all such instances of "miscarriage of justice5". Article 14(6)6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ("ICCPR") confers right on victims of wrongful conviction, which is subsequently reversed or pardoned on discovery of facts establishing conclusively that there has been miscarriage of justice, to be compensated according to law. Further, Article 9(5) of ICCPR provides, "Anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention shall have an enforceable right to compensation". Several counties7 throughout the world have converted their commitment under Article 14(6) ICCPR into law by either verbatim adoption of the said Article under their domestic legislation, or by conferring discretion on administrative or judicial bodies to determine whether or not to award compensation, or by utilizing general power of the domestic government to make ex-gratia payment8.

India9, despite ratifying ICCPR, has till date failed to provide any domestic legislation for rehabilitation and compensation of victims of wrongful/ malicious prosecution...

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