NEW DELHI: Chief Justice of India J S Khehar today asked legal volunteers to work for the victims of crime this year, saying he wondered what happens to the victims of rape or acid attacks or those who lose their bread earners, while the criminals got access to justice till the very end.
Calling upon legal volunteers to reach out to them to ensure they get the due compensation, he said in India, a convict in a terror crime has all possible access to justice as permissible under the law, even after exhausting all legal remedies upto the Supreme Court.
The Chief Justice was apparently referring to the case of 1993 Mumbai blast lone death row convict Yakub Memon whose petition challenging his capital punishment was rejected during the day on July 29, 2015 by the Supreme Court, but some activist lawyers had moved another plea the same night for re-examination of the verdict as the guilty was to be hanged on the morning of July 30.
The apex court had agreed to the request and accorded urgent hearing and, in a special sitting of a bench heard the plea for more than two hours from 0200 hours on July 30 as well as Memon's counsel at length to reiterate its decision upholding the death sentence.
"Ours is a strange country. The bigger the criminal, the bigger is the outrage. As we have seen before that the convict in a terrorist crime who has failed up to the Supreme Court and also in his review, can get access to justice in a manner that we extend.
"I have wondered over the years, what about the victims. I have wondered over the years what about the families which have lost their bread earner. I have wondered over the years what about that acid attack victim who has been defaced and cannot survive the society. I think about rape victims and their lives and I wonder why we don't reach out to them.
"I wish to make an appeal to you today as a patron of the organisation. Let us reach out to the victims. Make 2017 a year of the victims," Justice Khehar said in his inaugural address of the 15th All India meet of State Legal Service Authorities.
The CJI asked National Legal Service Authority (NALSA), State Legal Services Authority and District Legal Service Authorities to send their para-legal volunteers to every trial court to inform the victims that their right to compensation is not closed.
"Let us send our para-legal volunteers to every trial court to inform the victims. Let us inform every victim about section 357A of CrPC, that he has the right to compensation.
"Let us make them understand that the case is not closed with the acquittal or conviction of the accused. Let us have a heart and reach the victims," he said.
Justice Khehar said section 357A of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) was introduced by Parliament to create a fund at the national level and state level for the victims.
"When the punishment itself contemplates sentence or fine section 357 of CrPC provides that the fine can be passed on to the victim. Even if that is not so, section 357A of CrPC have the fund -- a state fund, which can be extended to the victims," he said while asking NALSA and other state level bodies to observe 2017 as the year of the victims.
Justice Khehar said that apart from victim compensation, the accused in any case, especially a criminal case, should not go unrepresented and as soon as he is arrested, there should be somebody to reach out to help him in his case.
The CJI also said "it's an opportunity that has come our way and we should grab this opportunity and do whatever in the service of our nation and country. Here and now should be our motto".
Justice Khehar urged Minister of State for Law and Justice P P Chaudhary, who appreciated the NALSA theme song 'Ek Muthi Asman' produced by filmmaker Prakash Jha, to telecast short films to create legal awareness on national television. These short films have been made by Prakash Jha for NALSA to create awareness.
The CJI also appreciated the concern shown by Chaudhary over the work done by judicial officers for creating legal awareness like distributing pamphlets, brochures and other materials among people in the slums and other places.
"We appreciate that you are willing to share the responsiblity because the kind of work judicial officers do in spreading legal awareness at grass root level, is some times embarassing," he said, adding that it is this kind of work which can be shared with the executive.
Supreme Court judge, Justice Dipak Misra, who is the executive chairman of NALSA, said legal aid should be provided to the marginalised, poor and needy in an adequate manner by the legal people as they are entitled to it.
He said that on February 11, National Lok Adalat was held in which 6,41,397 cases from various fields were disposed and 11 lakhs people were directly benefitted.
The minister in his address hinted that the Advocates Act may be amended so that at least 10 per cent of the cases of the poor or marginalised sections are taken up by them.
He said in order to reduce pendency of cases, especially in the subordinate judiciary, some of the administrative work done by judicial officers could be delegated to other persons.
Expressing the willingness of his ministry to extend support to the NALSA in spreading legal awareness among masses, Chaudhary advocated the use of information technology to reach out at the grassroot level.