Victims’ say: On SC cancelling bail for Ashish Mishra

The Supreme Court has done well to assert victims’ role in criminal proceedings against offenders

Published - April 20, 2022 12:10 am IST

In cancelling the bail granted by the Allahabad High Court to Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister Ajay Mishra, and an accused in the Lakhimpur-Kheri murder case, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the basic principles that govern bail jurisprudence. The High Court’s failure to hear the objections of the victims of the Lakhimpur-Kheri violence, in which eight people, including four farmers and a journalist, died during a protest organised by farmers against the Union Minister, is a key reason for setting aside the bail order, but it has also been criticised for “taking a myopic view” of the evidence and going into the merits of the case. It is settled law that while granting bail, courts only ought to take a preliminary view as to involvement of the accused in the offence, its nature and gravity, and the severity of the punishment if there is a conviction; besides the possible effect of giving bail to the accused, such as the scope for tampering with evidence, intimidating witnesses, influencing the outcome or the possibility of the accused fleeing justice. The Supreme Court has rightly pointed out that the High Court had needlessly gone into the nature of the evidence relating to the incident, in which a vehicle was driven into the crowd, and stressed the absence of any firearm injury among the victims. The apex court's conclusion that irrelevant material was considered for grant of bail, while ignoring established parameters, is unexceptionable.

The more significant aspect of the order is the emphasis it places on the right of victims to be heard at every stage of criminal proceedings. The Court has recorded its disappointment with the High Court for not acknowledging this right. The victims’ right is not limited to filing an appeal in the event of the acquittal of the accused, but extends to being heard even in the bail stage. By describing the rights of a victim of a crime as “substantive, enforceable and another facet of human rights,” the Court has advanced the cause of victimology as a part of criminal law. As a result of both changes in the law and emerging jurisprudence, victims are now in a position to get compensation as well as the status of a participant in the prosecution of offenders. The verdict should lead to greater participation by victims in the criminal process and thus help the cause of justice. The cancellation of Mr. Mishra’s bail is also an indirect indictment of the Uttar Pradesh government, which did not file an appeal against the grant of bail, despite a recommendation to that effect by a judge monitoring the probe. The Supreme Court had declined to hand over the case to the CBI, reposing its trust in a Special Investigation Team of the State police. While the accused will get another chance to apply for bail as the matter has been remanded to the High Court, the SIT must do nothing to undermine the Court’s faith.

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