Lakhimpur Kheri case: State’s silence is not the victims’ voice, says Supreme Court

‘Victim has a legally vested right to be heard at every step post the occurrence of an offence’

Updated - April 19, 2022 01:42 pm IST

Published - April 18, 2022 09:10 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File

A view of Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: S. Subramanium

Victims of crimes are no longer mute spectators who can be made to sit outside courtrooms while the State took over and won or lost their cases in court, the Supreme Court held on Monday in a judgment endorsing the right of the kin of farmers murdered in Lakhimpur Kheri to independently appeal Ashish Mishra’s bail when the State of Uttar Pradesh did not.

A three–judge Bench led by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana said criminal trials are not just between the accused and the State anymore. The State does not take on the persona of the victim. The ‘victim’ or the de facto sufferer of the crime is an independent persona with an equal if not a greater right to participate in the quest for justice. The victim has to be heard by the courts at every stage — right from investigation to the end of the judicial trial, and especially during bail hearings of the accused.

“Until recently, criminal law had been viewed on a dimensional plane wherein the courts were required to adjudicate between the accused and the State. The ‘victim’ — the de facto sufferer of a crime — had no participation in the adjudicatory process and was made to sit outside the court as a mute spectator. However, with the recognition that the ethos of criminal justice dispensation to prevent and punish ‘crime’ had surreptitiously turned its back on the ‘victim’, the jurisprudence with respect to the rights of victims to be heard and to participate in criminal proceedings began to positively evolve,” the Supreme Court observed.

The right of a victim to be heard is another facet of human rights. The right of a victim to participate is “totally independent, incomparable and not accessory or auxiliary to those of the State”.

The voice of the State is not that of the victim necessarily, Justice Surya Kant, who wrote the judgment for the Bench also comprising Justice Hima Kohli, said.

“The victim 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,” Justice Kant observed.

The court referred to Section 2 (wa) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2008, which not only inserted the definition of a ‘victim’ but also statutorily recognised various rights of such victims at different stages of trial

“A voice has been given to victims of crime by Parliament and the judiciary and that voice needs to be heard, and if not already heard, it needs to be raised to a higher decibel so that it is clearly heard,” the court said.

The accused had challenged the right of the farmers’ families to independently challenge his bail in the Supreme Court.

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