Supreme Court: In the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case, where the Allahabad High Court had granted bail to the accused Ashish Mishra despite the fact that the ‘victims’ had got disconnected from the online proceedings and could not make effective submissions, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, CJ and Surya Kant* and Hima Kohli, JJ had the occasion to decide whether a ‘victim’ as defined under Section 2(wa) CrPC is entitled to be heard at the stage of adjudication of bail application of an accused.
The Court held that a ‘victim’ within the meaning of CrPC cannot be asked to await the commencement of trial for asserting his/her right to participate in the proceedings.
“He/She has a legally vested right to be heard at every step post the occurrence of an offence. Such a ‘victim’ has unbridled participatory rights from the stage of investigation till the culmination of the proceedings in an appeal or revision.”
The Court also clarified that ‘victim’ and ‘complainant/informant’ are two distinct connotations in criminal jurisprudence. It is not always necessary that the complainant/informant is also a ‘victim’, for even a stranger to the act of crime can be an ‘informant’, and similarly, a ‘victim’ need not be the complainant or informant of a felony.
The Court further observed that the victims’ rights are totally independent, incomparable, and are not accessory or auxiliary to those of the State under the Cr.P.C. The presence of ‘State’ in the proceedings, therefore, does not tantamount to according a hearing to a ‘victim’ of the crime.
“The right of a victim under the amended CrPC are substantive, enforceable, and are another facet of human rights. The victim’s right, therefore, cannot be termed or construed restrictively like a brutum fulmen.”
The Court clarified that these enunciations were not to be conflated with certain statutory provisions, such as those present in Special Acts like the Scheduled Cast and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, where there is a legal obligation to hear the victim at the time of granting bail. Instead, what must be taken note of is that; First, the Indian jurisprudence is constantly evolving, whereby, the right of victims to be heard, especially in cases involving heinous crimes, is increasingly being acknowledged; Second, where the victims themselves have come forward to participate in a criminal proceeding, they must be accorded with an opportunity of a fair and effective hearing.
“If the right to file an appeal against acquittal, is not accompanied with the right to be heard at the time of deciding a bail application, the same may result in grave miscarriage of justice. Victims certainly cannot be expected to be sitting on the fence and watching the proceedings from afar, especially when they may have legitimate grievances. It is the solemn duty of a court to deliver justice before the memory of an injustice eclipses.”
Talking about the legislative history of the rights of the victims, the Court observed that repeated judicial intervention, coupled with the recommendations made from time to time, prompted the Parliament to bring into force the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2008, which not only inserted the definition of a ‘victim’ under Section 2(wa) but also statutorily recognised various rights of such victims at different stages of trial. Further, the legislature has thoughtfully given a wide and expansive meaning to the expression ‘victim’ which “means a person who has suffered any loss or injury caused by reason of the act or omission for which the accused person has been charged and the expression “victim” includes his or her guardian or legal heir”.
[Jagjeet Singh v. Ashish Mishra, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 453, decided on 18.04.2022]
*Judgment by: Justice Surya Kant
For Appellants: Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave
For Accused: Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar
For State: Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani