Regretting the neglect of a legal provision on the award of compensation to victims of crimes,the Supreme Court has directed courts across the country to make sure they adjudge the aspect of compensation in every criminal case.
The court order,which will be sent to all High Courts for intimation and strict compliance,is going to make it compulsory for all courts to examine several factors like the nature of the crime,justness of the claim and the capacity of the accused to pay.
A mandatory compliance will go a long way to reassure the victim that he or she is not forgotten in the criminal justice system due to failure by the court to follow a specific provisions relating to victim compensation.
A Bench led by Justice T S Thakur made it clear that the law accorded a power coupled with a duty and hence it was not optional for the courts to choose whether or not to examine the issue of compensation,to be paid by an offender to the victims under Section 357 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
While the award or refusal of compensation in a particular case may be within the courts discretion,there exists a mandatory duty on the court to apply its mind to the question in every criminal case. Application of mind to the question is best disclosed by recording reasons for awarding or refusing compensation. If application of mind is not considered mandatory,the entire provision would be rendered a dead letter, held the court.
It noted that Section 357 CrPC conferred a duty on the court to decide compensation in every criminal case after it records a conviction for the accused.
The court said this exercise would involve ascertaining the capacity of the accused to pay.
Such an inquiry can precede an order on sentence to enable the court to take a view,both on the question of sentence and compensation that it may decide to award to the victim or his or her family, it added.
The Bench embarked upon the exercise as it adjudicated an appeal in a murder case from Maharashtra.
Noting that there was no reference to compensation or the paying capacity of the accused either in the trial court or in the High Court judgment,the court said: The judgments under appeal betray ignorance of the courts below about the statutory provisions and the duty cast upon the courts.
Lamenting the situation,the Supreme Court expressed hope that the courts remain careful in future,for their obliviousness could defeat the very object behind the introduction of the provision that sought restitution and compensation for loss or injury suffered by the victims of crime.