The Delhi High Court'saward of death penalty to the killer of Priyadarshini Mattoo has given a sense of relief to citizens and justice to the aggrieved family, but the verdict in this high profile case that involved a grave miscarriage of justice for ten long years is still incomplete.
The Hon?ble judges were aware that the father of accused Santosh Singh was a senior police officer who misused his position to save his son from the law once the heinous crime was committed. Worse, despite several police complaints lodged by the victim, Priyadarshini, Shri J.P. Singh failed to ensure that his lawless son abide by the written undertakings made to the police about good behaviour. In a sense, he and the police officers who failed to protect the honour of the young girl who was being stalked were complicit in her continued harassment for two years, ending in the horrendous eventual rape and murder.
Public opinion, which compelled the judges to reopen the case and give the death penalty to Santosh demands exemplary punishment for those who thwarted the ends of justice. This was an appropriate case in which to set the principle that officers of the law, who do not uphold its majesty, will be felled by the law. Indeed, the Court would do well to punish such abettors of crime, and the Police Department certainly should step in to act against its guilty officers.
The Mattoo and other high profile cases involving miscarriage of justice also make it imperative that the courts seriously review the artificial benchmark of ?rarest of rare? crimes. This was part of the judgment of the Sessions Judge in the Indira Gandhi murder case, and it is possible that the judge made this statement because he felt a personal need to justify the award of death sentence to the killers in that politically tense period in national life. While the murder of a sitting Prime Minister is an unparalleled offence against the State, for which the death penalty is only appropriate, by justifying this with the clause of ?rarest of rare? crimes, the judge unwittingly established an unnecessary precedent.
We now face the peculiar situation in which the award of punishment for a crime is not fitted to the enormity of the crime itself, but to a perception called ?rarest of rare? crimes. This is fraught with danger, for it could lead to a situation in which perception rather than crime determines punishment; it could lead to denial of justice by establishing hidden barriers to the award of death penalty.
The fact is that the propensity of high profile offenders to thumb their noses at the law is increasing all over the country, creating horrible insecurity among the citizenry. The argument that a crime is not in the category of ?rarest of rare? could lead to grave injustice, rather than justice.
Consider the Jessica Lal case dispassionately. Certainly the accused Manu Sharma did not go to the Tamarind Court with the intention of committing a murder. But he was a high flying and rich son of an influential politician, was carrying a loaded gun when there was no known threat to his life, and he had no compunction in firing at an unarmed girl because he thought she had insulted him. It is murder.
If the accused had surrendered after his crime, his lawyers? could argue that he did not deserve the death penalty, and I would agree. But here is a man whose family has used every trick in the book to evade arrest, to purchase witnesses, tamper with evidence, and cock a snook at the law for a decade. Further, he got involved in another high profile case, of Nitish Katara. As such, there is no evidence that Manu Sharma is repentant and intends to mend his ways. Given the sufferings of the Lal family and public disillusionment with the way the case was handled, Manu deserves a strong punishment and so do all his accessories, including his father.
This applies equally to the Nitish Katara case, where his widowed mother Neelam is fighting a lonely battle, with mercifully increased public support. I personally believe that Bharti Yadav should be jailed on arrival in India for contempt of court and contempt of the laws of this country, and the case brought to a swift conclusion. In all cases where high profile connections are used to thwart the course of justice, exemplary punishment must be meted out by the courts to restore public confidence. The first prerequisite in this regard is to abolish the artifice called ?rarest of rare? crimes ? it does not exist in the IPC or CrPC, and confuses rather than clarifies issues.
Coming back to Santosh Singh, the Hon?ble Court should have taken note of the shocking manner in which his lawyer colleagues manhandled media persons covering the trial, holding them responsible for his misfortunes. It was intimidation at its worst, and called for action against the errant lawyers, who misbehaved in the court premises. The silence of the courts here is a matter for concern.
It bears emphasis that punishment must fit the immensity of the crime, rather than be weighed against artificial parameters, like perceptions of rarity or the efficacy of deterrence. Deterrence is a secondary aspect of justice ? letting the guilty get away with crime acts as a stimulant to further crime, while punishment does not necessarily stop further crimes. Hence the failure to deter other persons from committing crimes can be no argument to award lesser punishment to those guilty of heinous offences, or to let them go scot-free. For justice to prevail, every crime must receive its appropriate denouement.