Innocent Till Proven Guilty

Posted on May 11, 2010 in Society

Rohan Gupta:

A Mumbai Special Court, which conducted the trial of individuals involved in the 26/11 terror strikes, announced death penalty for Ajmal Amir Kasab, while acquitting two other alleged terrorists (both Indian nationals). All over the country, legal experts included, were expressing their joy on Kasab’s conviction, while at the same time their disappointment that the other two were acquitted.

While Kasab’s conviction and the joy accompanying it was expected given the amount of evidence against him, much of which was available to the public as well, the disappointment of the people caused due to the acquittal of the other two accused is surprising considering the fact that most of us don’t even know their names let alone any evidence against them.

Our judicial system is based on the principle of ‘innocent till proven guilty’ or of assumed innocence. This means that anyone accused of a crime need not be guilty of it even though he is accused after a thorough police investigation. The very purpose of the judiciary is to determine whether the police have arrested the right person or not and unless the prosecutor (who in India assumes the role of the lawyer of the police) can prove the guilt of the accused he is innocent. Therefore logically speaking, if a court does not convict a person it does not mean that either the judge or the prosecutor was inept, (assuming that we have faith in the judicial system), but that there is not enough reason or evidence to believe that the person in question committed the crime, ergo HE IS INNOCENT.

Our pre mature assumption of guilt of the two accused was probably guided by our emotional attachment to the issue of terrorism (or of crime in general). However it is prejudiced and wrong. The problem arises when this becomes (and in this case it has become) a social habit in relation to both terrorism and even other crimes like rape etc. The accused obviously have to face a lot of social backlash as neighbors, employers, friends etc., tend to be hostile towards the people whom they think are responsible for murdering fellow citizens and harming the social order. They also perceive them as a threat and, for this reason, there may even be incidents of attacks on these people. This obviously causes not only emotional and mental stress for the individual who was accused but also makes it extremely difficult for innocent people to settle down in society, as they tend to get fired from jobs and thrown out of colonies for being terrorists (or criminals). Terrorist recruiters may even use instances of social backlash to instigate the Muslim youth against the existing social order. A strong social opinion also puts undue pressure on judges and lawyers, which may lead to the conviction of an innocent person. Lawyers had earlier refused to fight for Ajmal Kasab and when his lawyer tried to do his job objectively we all received his apparent devotion with a shock as we were at some level expecting him to offer no resistance on Kasab’s behalf and take him straight to the gallows. This was even written about, some time back, by noted columnist Indrajit Hazra in his weekly column The Red Herring in TOI.

The idea of an independent judiciary suggests that it requires a certain qualification and that ordinary people (people who are not judges) are not ‘capable’ of passing comments on a judicial issue (specially when they have not even heard the defense) . Therefore even parliamentarians are not allowed to comment on a decision made by any court in the country. Even an investigation by the CBI, let alone the ordinary police is scrutinized by the courts and is likely to be deemed wrong.

At this stage we seem to have forgotten the principles on which our society and judiciary function and which we seem to hold dear (at least on paper and in interviews). There is a need to remember them before the problem goes out of hand (if it hasn’t already) and we eventually reach the point of anarchy and absurdity where we have forgotten what we were fighting for and what we were protecting from terrorists and criminals.