OBSERVING THAT victims are the “unfortunately forgotten people” of the criminal justice system, which tends to think more of the offender’s rights, the Delhi High Court has ruled that Section 357 CrPC, which empowers courts to award compensation to victims of crimes as per injury or loss suffered by them, is mandatory and it is the duty of all courts to consider and pass orders for fair and reasonable compensation in every criminal case.
“Mere punishment of the offender cannot give much solace to the family of victim — civil action for damages is a long-drawn and cumbersome judicial process. Monetary compensation for redressal by the Court finding the infringement of the indefeasible right to life of the citizen is, therefore, useful and at times perhaps the only effective remedy to apply balm to the wounds of family members of the deceased victim, who may have been the bread earner…,” a full Bench of the court said, in a November 27 ruling.
It laid down a procedure for trial courts in Delhi to follow after every conviction in a criminal case, directing them to send to the High Court’s Registrar General a monthly statement on cases decided each month and a summary with information regarding process followed towards grant of compensation in those cases. The Bench comprised Justices J R Midha, Rajnish Bhatnagar and Brijesh Sethi (since retired).
However, it said, payment of compensation to victim, and State on cost of prosecution, will depend on accused’s ability to pay: “If accused does not have capacity to pay compensation or compensation awarded against accused is not adequate for rehabilitation of victim, Court shall invoke Section 357A CrPC to recommend the case to Delhi State Legal Services Authority for award of compensation from Victim Compensation Fund.”
In the ruling, the court prescribed a Victim Impact Report (VIR) to be filed by DSLSA in every criminal case after a conviction, following a “summary inquiry” ascertaining impact of a crime on the victim, expenses incurred by the prosecution, and paying capacity of the accused.
Holding that the law contained in Section 357(3) (compensation to victims) has been mostly neglected, the Bench said apart from the severity of mental and physical harm or injury suffered by the victim and paying capacity of accused, the relief would be determined by courts depending on the gravity of offence as well. The High Court ordered trial courts to direct accused to file affidavits on their assets and income in 10 days of conviction, and the State to file affidavits disclosing expenses incurred on prosecution along with supporting documents in 30 days.
The affidavits are to be sent by the trial court with copies of the judgment to DSLSA, which will conduct the summary inquiry, and submit a VIR with its recommendations to trial courts in 30 days. The bench said DLSA could seek necessary assistance from SDM, SHO and/or prosecution concerned for the inquiry, and the latter shall provide the same. Based on VIR, the trial court, after hearing all parties including victims, would award compensation and cost of prosecution to the State, if the accused can pay. The amount is to be deposited with DSLSA, which would disburse it.
It said requirement of a DSLSA summary inquiry, affidavits by accused and VIRs should be incorporated in the statute or rules, and asked the Centre to consider the suggestion. ASG Chetan Sharma was asked to take up the matter with the Ministry of Law & Justice and inform the HC on February 25.
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