All are equal before law, high-profile accused (or lawyers) don’t get any special treatment
Justice (retd) PD Kode | September 7, 2015
There is a saying in Marathi: “Jaya angi mothepan, taya yatana kathin (the one who is big has to face more difficulties).” It is certainly true in court matters. When high-profile people from politics, cinema, religion or media have to go to the court, they often face additional difficulties in court proceedings. Probably, it is because of extra love or the animus entertained by common people for or against them.
A matinee idol is so loved by his fans that they are not ready to entertain the idea that he could be in the wrong. People defend their idols even when they are wrong and try to paint them as victims ignoring their crimes. Such an attitude creates enormous difficulties in attempting to establish the crime and often invites unwanted criticism.
Read more: Celebrity case: Murder convict’s plea dismissed by the court
Conversely, some people are unnecessarily biased against such celebrities. They are not ready to entertain the idea that such a person, like anybody else, should also get an opportunity to defend himself. They maintain right from the beginning that the high-profile person must be wrong and he should be firmly dealt with.
Both attitudes – praising or condemning without the concerned person being given an opportunity to have his say – clearly violate the principles of equality before law. The court has to exclude both these erroneous reactions.
Our legal system is based on two salutary principles: (a) the equality before law, and (b) nobody can be condemned without being heard. Since the entire system is based upon the principle of equality before law, the position of a person (high profile or otherwise, moneyed or poor, with or without political power) is wholly irrelevant. In both types of cases, civil as well as criminal, the court has to base its decision upon the evidence. If there is adequate evidence upon the relevant issues, only then the correct decision can be arrived at. Such being the test for the decision, whether the person involved is high profile or otherwise becomes irrelevant.
Our tradition and discipline also ensures that. A judicial officer joins at a lower stage and after gaining experience at the relevant stage he is considered for promotion. Only meritorious candidates are promoted. Also, all the courts are bound by the procedure prescribed under statutory provisions – civil procedure code for the civil side, criminal procedure code for the criminal side and the provisions of the Evidence Act for both sides. A judicial officer has hardly any room to act as per his own sweet will; if he does, he will be exposed and his career will be ruined.
Consider the verdict in the case involving Salman Khan. Firstly, of course, the case is not finally decided. The decision given by the trial court has been appealed against by Salman Khan and probably even by the state, hence the matter is sub judice. Regarding the correctness of the decision, no comment thereon can be offered today. However, it can be said that in criminal proceedings the statutory right of an appeal is provided to the culprit convicted and sentenced to suffer punishment – the appeal being for the purposes of questioning the correctness of the decision given and the sentence imposed. By and large giving effect of the judgment during pendency of appeal, would have created certain anomalies. In the event of the sentence being not suspended and the appeal not even reaching for the final hearing before the sentence imposed is over or in such an event of appeal being later on allowed is bound to result in grave injustice due to concerned being required to undergo sentence or part thereof – and in some cases later on found to be not guilty.
Hence, by and large, whenever a convict or the person who is on bail prefers an appeal during trial proceedings, the status quo is maintained by suspending the sentence imposed. However, this is not a universal rule and exception is made of not granting bail when (a) sentence imposed is punishment for life, and (b) facts of the case show that the act punished was involved brutality of exceptional nature or shocked the conscience of the human person.
The court has to adopt the procedure prescribed under the law and the interpretation of it by the apex court. The same is necessary for upholding the right of liberty to an individual guaranteed by Indian constitution. Our constitution does not permit unnecessary or erroneous curtailment of right of liberty conferred upon the citizen.
Coming to the grant of bail to Salman Khan, it can be said that every month thousands of appeals are filed by convicts in the concerned high courts. Depending upon the advice received or the urgency of concerned culprits not going in custody, some are immediately preferred and some after a few days, for the reason that hurry made in preparing an appeal should not result in committing an error. So preferring an appeal on the same day or later is the choice of the litigant.
A high court is the highest authority of a state for administering justice and upholding the rights of citizens guaranteed under the constitution. Hence, when a person like Salman Khan complains that his right of liberty is jeopardised due to an erroneous decision of trial court and moves the high court to restore his liberty either during pendency of the appeal or for a temporary period till other side appears, the high court could not have deferred his plea simply because of his high-profile personality or because of the vexed opinion of a section of society regarding his involvement. Suffice to say that the latter aspect cannot be even said to be relevant for taking the decision for exercising the functions vested with the high courts, i.e., examination of an aspect whether his right of liberty was jeopardised due to an erroneous decision.
As he was on bail during the trial proceedings the same could not have been continued save in the event of his case falling within exceptions, as noted earlier. Hence, the granting of bail or granting it on the same day does not invite any criticism.
It can be further said the principle upon which cases are decided – the evidence and dilation or discussion of the same made by both sides – clearly denote that the situation would hardly be changed by the appearance of high-profile lawyers who assist the court in arriving at the correct decision.
Though it is true that parties who engage high-profile lawyers steal initially, being officers of the court they owe duty first to the court and thereafter to the party. While well-known advocates simplify the task of the court by making accurate submissions, mere absence of such an advocate does not absolve the court of its duty to examine the case in accordance with the principles of law.
Justice (Retd) Kode was a special TADA judge. He spoke to Geetanjali Minhas.
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