A statement by Asian Human Rights Commission
For Immediate Release
March 26, 2008
India cannot afford judicial extravaganza
“Except for the crime in question, Mr. R. K. Sharma was an asset to the nation…” The national media in India reported that this observation was made by the Additional Sessions Judge Mr. Rajendra Kumar Shastri on 18 March 2008 while delivering his judgment in the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case. Justice Shastri was the trial judge at the Fast Track Court, New Delhi where the case was tried.
The crime is question was murder. Sharma, along with three other persons he hired, were accused of masterminding and murdering Shivani, who was alleged to be Sharma’s girlfriend. Shivani was a newspaper reporter. Sharma was convicted for murder and sentenced to undergo imprisonment for life. Sharma was a police officer with India’s elite force, the Indian Police Service (IPS) and served in many covetable positions like at the United Nations, Interpol, the Prime Minister’s Office and at the Central Bureau of Investigation. When charged with the murder, Sharma was serving in the rank of Inspector General. Sharma is the first IPS officer to get a life term for murder in India.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is not surprised by the ‘praise’ showered upon the murderer police officer by the court. It is a judicial prerogative to make remarks about the case or the persons involved in the case in a judgment. The remarks made by the trail judge while convicting Sharma is however an alarming trend within the Indian judiciary — to downplay heinous offenses. Sharma is not an ordinary individual. He is a police officer who masterminded a murder. The accused also incited others to join in the heinous act with lucrative offers of money and quasi-government jobs through corrupt means. The fact that such an officer in fact served in some of the most sensitive positions must be instead a matter of concern.
The accused police officer evaded arrest for a considerably long time. The investigating agency had to initiate steps through the court to declare the officer a ‘Proclaimed Offender’. Later, the investigating agency had to attach the officer’s properties through the court in an attempt to force the officer to surrender before the court. Even though the crime was committed on 19 January 1999, the accused was able to evade arrest till 27 September 2002. Despite all this, the court has showered its praise for the convicted police officer, while at the same time convicting him for murder along with three other co-accused.
There are five objectives sought to be achieved through punishing a crime. They are retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation and restitution. Common law, which is practiced in India, views murder as a public wrong. Murder is one of the most heinous crimes, if proved, that attracts the highest possible punishment. When such an act is committed by a law enforcement officer, that too of high rank, it compounds the severity of the crime. The remarks made by the trial judge in the sentence in this case praising the prime accused showcases the jurisprudential wilt within the Indian judiciary.
When a court delivers its judgment, it is not only applying the law, but is also contributing to the process of social engineering. This process though could be influenced by the presiding officers’ conviction and understanding about the particular fact in issue, must not be an occasion for the officer to express his personal opinion, though often judges make such remarks. Such remarks, if within the threshold of reasonable expressions, which the facts at hand might warrant, might be appreciated. When the judge crosses this threshold, it attracts criticism and is referred to as judicial extravaganza.
Law enforcement officers are not ordinary individuals in a society. In the Asian context, this category of public servants enjoy enormous powers, which due to overwhelming misuse, has generated fear about law enforcement officers among the ordinary public sans jurisdictions.
The message that is delivered unfortunately through the unwarranted remarks made by the trial judge in the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case appears as if the judge was forced to convict the accused due to his legal conviction, though his moral conviction was against it. What is showcased in a case that has attracted such media attention is not only the fact that the accused is finally convicted, but that the trail judge was sorry to do so. This casts shadows upon the trail judge’s intention in making such unqualified remarks, particularly when the defense is preparing for their appeal.
In fact a murderer police officer who has proved to have conspired to take the life of a mother is not an asset to the country, but a shame to the entire police force in India. A judge who showers praise to such a person is not an impartial judge, but a cloud that casts shadow upon the judiciary.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.