By Vritika Mathur
The Malimath report and its recommendations made in 2003 are set to be revised by the government. However, in the current situation, these changes could lead to a significant backlash.
Background on the Malimath Committee
The Committee on Reform of Criminal Justice System, otherwise known as the Malimath Committee, was formed in 2000 by the NDA government. It was headed by Justice V. S. Malimath who was the former Chief Justice of Kerala and Karnataka. The main purpose of this committee was to suggest changes to the old dysfunctional justice system.
In 2003, the six-member panel submitted reports recommending reforms to the Penal Code. This move was intended to help instil confidence in the judiciary and provide immediate justice to victims of crimes. According to Justice Malimath, “More than 80 percent of reported crimes went unpunished due to several reasons and the loopholes in the present criminal justice system and there was an urgent need to review the system and take corrective measures to improve the conviction rates.”
Justice Malimath believed that his committee’s recommendation would be a test of the Centre’s commitment to protecting the life and liberty of ordinary people. However, the 2003 Union Government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee implemented none of the recommendations.
A glimpse of the recommendations
The committee strongly felt that the existing system was too centred on the accused and that the victim was only called upon to give evidence. It made 158 recommendations to revamp this system, many of which revolved around guaranteeing justice to the victims of crime. This was done by making provisions allowing the victim to actively participate in cases involving serious crimes as well as ensuring adequate compensation. It also suggested that the state provide an advocate of the victim’s choice to plead on his/her behalf and that the cost of this would be borne by the state if the victim could not afford it.
Another recommendation was to allow confessions made to a police officer of the rank of superintendent or above to be admissible as evidence in court. This was subject to the condition that the accused was informed of his/her right to consult a lawyer. One more recommendation was to increase the period of pre-charge detention from 15 to 30 days for grave offences where the prescribed punishment is more than five years. It was also recommended that the period of judicial custody be increased from 90 to 180 days.
Revision of the report
In a more recent turn of events, news reports indicate that the government may be revisiting the report which has some reacting with alarm. Implementation of the reforms should be approached with care as it could have drastic results on the judicial system. One such example would be the controversial recommendation that would make confessions made to authorities admissible in court. This suggestion incentivises custodial torture, as it encourages police officers to resort to barbaric methods of treating suspects in order to extract confessions.
The provisions proposed in the report attempted to improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system and increase the conviction rates. However, the aim of these reforms should lean towards providing fair justice rather than towards securing convictions. Moreover, emphasis should be put on other factors that contribute to the dismal condition of the justice system, such as the poor training of officers, deplorable working conditions and the pressure put on police to make arrests.
Rather than acting on the report immediately, the government should concentrate on a plan that allows the recommendations to be implemented incrementally. The application of the report as a whole would be a dangerous step in the direction of a system where easy convictions are given priority over fair treatment.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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