M A I N   N E W S

Govt consults states on report on judicial reforms
S.S. Negi
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, March 13
Amidst awakening calls by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Chief Justice of India (CJI) Y.K. Sabharwal for judicial reforms, specially revamping the criminal justice system, the Centre is having a discussion with states on implementation of the Malimath Committee report, suggesting protection of witnesses and separation of prosecution from investigation.

The discussion with state governments was necessary as it involved amendments in laws, said a report of the Union Law and Justice Ministry on its new initiatives on judicial reforms, placed before the conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of high courts, held here on March 11.

The Prime Minister and the CJI, who addressed the conference under the shadow of a public outcry over the failure of the Delhi police to nail the accused in the Jessica Lall murder case, had cautioned against a collapse of the judicial system if corrective measures were not initiated.

“Action on some recommendations of the Malimath Committee pertaining to the Centre has been taken. On other recommendations requiring legislative amendments, state governments and union territory administrations are being consulted,” the 41-page document prepared by the Law Ministry said.

The document gave details of the reforms suggested by the committee, set up under former Karnataka High Court Chief Justice V.S. Malimath, which submitted its report in April 2003, suggesting drastic changes in the criminal justice system. The vital recommendations remained non-implemented as it required evolving a consensus with states as maintenance of law and order and justice were state subjects.

The changes suggested included separation of investigation and prosecution as it was of the view that police officials assigned law and order duties could not be effective investigators in the absence of specialised training.

It had also recommended separate departments of prosecution, free from police influence for general crimes and crimes against women.

Besides suggesting an adequate mechanism for protection of witnesses, to be monitored by the judiciary, the panel had recommended elimination of instances of perjury, setting up of a federal law agency to investigate cases of terrorism, organised crimes and economic offences.

The other important recommendations requiring consent of states related to an overhaul of the criminal justice system, the extent to which the right to silence be available to an accused under Article 20(3) of the Constitution (that he will not be compelled to be a witness against himself), the extent of the right of the accused, shift of presumption of innocence and burden of proof, enhancing the number of courts, the appointment of more judges in lower courts, an amendment in the trial procedure and the improvement of infrastructure of the subordinate judiciary, the backbone of the justice delivery system.

The non-implementation of the recommendations was in focus again in the wake of the Jessica Lall murder case falling flat in the court due to shoddy investigation by the Delhi police, its questionable methodology of conducting the prosecution.

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