At the mercy of civil court

THE WORD ``victimology'' was first used by Mr. Benjamin Mendelson, French Lawyer, in 1947, albeit its importance was well-recognised in our very many ancient laws, customs and conventions. Victims of crime were given reparations. But now the world has a politically organised legal order, where, states have nationalised private revenge and assumed collective responsibility.

All heinous offences are deemed to be committed against the State, and victims of such offences are forbidden to take the law into their hand for restitution of damages.

The State takes charge of the offenders for punishment and considers the victims as determinants of such crimes and leaves them at the mercy of the civil law.

Interest in the reformation of criminals and apathy towards victims has grown among penologists, jurists, psychologists, psychiatrists, criminologists and the Governments concerned. As a result, the offender has become the hero of the crime.

The Constitution protects his rights, and at the cost of his victim, he enjoys in jail, shelter, food, parole and free legal aid, while the victim's misery is regarded as his own private affair.

But the remarkable lead of the State of Illinois in the U.S. is a thought-provoking profile in this regard - in providing relief to victims through legislative and pragmatic measures.

Victims of crimes are in need of two prime things (a) psychological adjustment and (b) compensation/replenishing for the losses. Victims experience considerable disruption of psychological, emotional, cognitive and behavioural functions.

Their mental health is jeopardised which ultimately affects the criminal justice system, which is heavily based on witness viva voce, and the witness cooperation. But minutes of skilful support by a sensitive person immediately after the crime can be worth more than hours of professional counselling later; poignantly nothing really works beyond words.

The disturbed victims want information about their case, advice, support, protection and reassurance. The victims of crime want to be compensated for physical and property loss through monitory means besides meting out punishment to the offender.

Although criminal courts try the case of the victim, since compensation is not mandatory, they avoid such cases. The result, the victim has to initiate a tiresome and time- consuming civil proceeding.

A compensatory fine should be imposed upon the accused to indemnify the victim. If he is insolvent, he should work in jail till the accruing of compensation amount or the property of the accused, if any, should be confiscated by the State towards realisation of the compensation amount.

The scales of justice in the treatment of the accused and the victim shall be made equal. In the punishment of the offender by the Court, the victims must have an active say. They must be informed about the progress of their case periodically by the court or police.

The fines recovered from the offenders should be constituted as a benevolent fund for the victims of dependants.

India lies far behind in looking after the victims and witnesses of crimes. They are left at the mercy of the civil courts to seek damages.

The net result is that most criminals are acquitted for want of witnesses. If our criminal justice system is to win the confidence of the laity then cannons of victimology should be given adequate place in all legislative enactments.