Inadequate Representation of Underprivileged in Criminal Justice System
In our society, the accused seems like an animal and is treated like a criminal before the judgment of the court. For a just judgment, a fair trial and investigation are essential and the same is required to be done with an unbiased mindset. We cannot reach a just conclusion without having a fair trial with adequate representation for the accused. The most affected party from the unjust representation in the legal system is the accused. Due to lack of representation of the accused, they are falsely convicted by the state defying all the principles of a fair trial.
There are umpteen challenges faced by the accused in the criminal justice system. Lack of adequate representation is a direct violation of a person’s fundamental rights under part III of the Constitution of India. There are many ways people are directly affected (i) Innocents are falsely implicated. (ii) Few of them are acquitted by the court but they spend their lifetime in prison during trial and others were convicted in the end because of lack of representation in the court of law. (iii) Many commit crimes but are punished for more than their acts judicially imply. In all cases, the inability to access adequate representation is the main reason for such violation of their rights. The reason behind lack of accessibility for such adequate reasons is their poverty, caste, religion, socio-economic and others.
In the authentic report of DPRP (Death Penalty Research Project), now known as Project39a, I found that 76% of prisoners belonged to Backward Castes and minority religions. Similar statistics are found for the other offenses in NCRB reports every year. The majority of them belonged to socio-economic backwardness and could not afford adequate legal representation. The living condition of SC/ST is vulnerable, especially in the rural areas. It is very easy to target them and frame them for false charges because they do not have a strong stand in society. They live under the fear of upper castes and other dominating groups. The atrocities against Dalits are common, but they are unable to be pursued in legal discourse due to the same reason of inadequate legal representation and their practical difficulties. Precisely, the Dalits who are poor and struggle for their daily bread and work as labor, manual scavenging, etc.
Article 22 ensures that “… no one should be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice” firstly, this should be the duty of the state to provide an efficient legal professional for the accused. Second, not everyone has the sufficient means to access the legal profession of their choice. Article 22 may guarantee that anyone may not be denied to consult a lawyer of his choice but what if the accused is unable to exercise his choice due to existing inequality in society? The majority of accused belong to socio-economic backwardness where they cannot afford a lawyer and are left with no other option than legal aid counsels. The efficiency of a legal profession from legal aid (DLSA/NALSA) is not good enough in comparison to good private counsels.
‘A person is innocent until proven guilty’ but practical implementation is the inverse. Inadequate representation indirectly as well as directly violates Article 14, 15(1), 19, 21 of the Constitution of India. The rights given under part three are interlinked and get affected by any violation of fundamental rights. The state must ensure that no person is deprived of their essential rights. The state needs to make laws to treat every accused equally and make sure that any accused shouldn’t be punished because of inefficient legal representation. Under Ar. 14 State shall not deny equality before the law and equal protection from the law through which special laws can be made for the above-mentioned categories. The state can make new laws for the protection of Women, Children, SC/ST, and others under Article 15 for their separate adequate representation in the legal system.
The Supreme Court said that ‘Bail is a rule, Jail is an exception but the implication is done in the reverse order. The discretion of the Judges also plays a prominent role in bail applications. During the trial, the accused suffer in prison and their families, especially when they are the sole earning member in the family, suffer outside the prison. The application for bail needs to be drafted with good research skills to present it well. The conviction ratio is very less in comparison to under-trial prisoners but keeping the accused in jail during the trial is also amounting to injustice to innocent people. Sec 436 A CrPC only ensures the bail only after half of the time from the total punishment is spent in prison.
The majority of accused are youth aged between 25-35 and the legal system needs to treat them with a reformative approach. During the trial, the youth can work for themselves and find an efficient lawyer to present their case at the best in courts. Without that there is no other way apart from legal aid representation. The entire disappointment for not exercising the fundamental rights will raise them with a mindset of disbelief in the legal system.
No trial can be called a fair trial without treating an accused fairly by providing them an adequate efficient legal representation. Adequate representation can solve many problems beforehand, from some perspectives. The active approach for under-trial prisoners should be taken on a priority basis and look out for bails in possible cases as interim relief should be encouraged.
Author Sushant Singh is an advocate practicing in the High Court of Delhi.
(The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author/s. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Policy Observer or our members.)
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