Friday, December 11, 2015

[Editorial # 10] The law and the celebrity

When celebrity status is in conflict with the law, public sentiment will revolve around two narratives. The narrative of power and wealth would suggest high status is a burden, a disadvantage before the judiciary because judges will be chary of being seen as favouring them. The more popular narrative, however, is that the slow criminal justice system is always skewed in favour of celebrities. It will include folk wisdom that even the otherwise fair and strict judiciary will cave in to power and pelf. When an occasional verdict brings down a famous personality, it will be seen as a victory for the citizen and a blow for justice. May 6, 2015 saw such a moment when Mumbai sessions judge D.W. Deshpande handed down a five-year prison sentence to Bollywood star Salman Khan in a hit-and-run case. But cynicism took over before the day was out when he was given bail. Now, before the year is out, a clean acquittal has been recorded in the Bombay High Court, and faith in the justice system has been rocked again — or reaffirmed, depending on which of the two narratives one subscribes to. For the rarefied world of Mumbai stars and socialites, a superstar can do no wrong, and even if he does, the gravity of his offence should be balanced with whatever charitable or humanitarian work he may have done, and the most lenient course adopted. The judge, in this milieu, is a lonely man who has to apply the law and pass a verdict without being swayed by either the status of the individual involved or public opinion. 
The judgment of Justice A.R. Joshi acquitting Khan may be sound in law. Yet, it is likely to revive cynicism about the administration of criminal justice in the country. It raises a host of questions, not least of which is about who killed Nurullah Sharif in the September 2002 incident. The judge has termed a key eyewitness, Ravindra Patil, a police bodyguard who is now no more, unreliable. Has it now been accepted that it was Ashok Singh, the actor’s driver who claimed responsibility in the latter stages of the trial, who was driving the car that night? If so, is he going to be proceeded against? However, the questions are not limited to the judgment. The police have been exposed for their shoddy investigation. An honest investigation is unlikely to have resulted in doubts being cast on as basic an aspect as the identity of the person at the wheel. Crucial lapses in the handling of the blood samples have been recorded. The judge has ruled that it was not proved either that Khan was driving the car or that he was drunk. Why then does the verdict raise uncomfortable questions? It may be because after three recorded convictions, Salman Khan is yet to be punished.

1. What messages do you draw from the verdict given in the Salman Khan Hit-and-Run case?
2. What flaws do you think are there in the current judicial system?
3. Do you think justice has been done in this case?
4. Can you cite any other such high profile case where the guilty was successfully prosecuted and convicted?
5. Do you think our judicial system is skewed towards the rich and the wealthy? Why and why not?


  1. The ultimate message that has gone out to the citizenry is an overt denial of justice to the common man. The Bombay High Court may have cited the absence of unassailable evidence for conviction, there is ample circumstantial evidence to prove Salman Khan's presence on the night of the Hit and Run case. It should not matter whether the statements of witnesses are varied on the nuances of the case. What should be taken into consideration are the obvious circumstances of the case. After three convictions, one being of culpable homicide, there should be no excuse to let a suspect go scot -free . This case points to the undeniable influecne of money power and status in influencing the outcome of judicial decisions. While thousands languish in jail on account of petty offences, due to the inability to pay bail, a superstar is acquitted without so much as a thought for the helpless victims. The shoddy work of the investigation team in the collection and maintenance of blood samples and lack of further investigation into the circumstances of the case, point to the laxity of the justice system in our country. It seems to be easier to let Salman Khan off the hook, than to take the effort to conclusively investigate the case. This entire episode will erode the confidence of the country in our judiciary, which represents the strongest pillar to uphold democracy. Then there are the victim's families,whose justice has been forgotten in the chaos surrounding a superstar.

  2. Good job Manaswini. By writing answers like this on a daily basis you are surely going to ace it. Keep it up

  3. The most fundamental aspect which is misunderstood in salman khan case is that he his a convict and not an accused.Before criticizing the judiciary, we need to understand the rationale for passing such judgement. Salman khan was convicted under section 304 of the Indian Penal Code by the trial court which was prima facie bad in law.Reading of section 304-A of the Indian Penal Code clearly lays down that salman should have been convicted under Section 304-A for which maximum punishment is 6 months or fine. its important to emphasize on the word or where imprisonment is not mandatory. Now lets imagine that salman would have been convicted under this section where he would have pleaded guilty and would have been given maximum punishment that is 6 months. he had already served 2 months in prison as under trial. the whole hit and run case where salman was booked should have been under section 304-A and not section 304 for which trial court convicted him and sentenced him under section 304 as gave maximum punishment as 5 years this was the miscarriage of justice which was served corrected by the High Court.
    Further before evaluating the circumstantial evidence in the above case we need to understand the Jurisprudence behind it. There was no circumstantial evidence against salman khan. India is the country which follows Adversial system wherein cross examination is the heart and soul of Criminal system. And the same cannot be deviated from. otherwise any man on the street can be convicted with out having any evidence against him. The other Fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence is the benefit of doubt should always go to the accused. If you read the text of Judgement, there is not any benefit of doubt but there is no evidence against him.
    The whole Fundamental Problem is media trial. Media convicts every accused even before the trial is commenced and in case its a rich super star the even before the arrest has taken place. The media should take responsibility to acknowledge the law and upholding it in the true sense and not by increasing there trp just because the case is against salman khan. there have been so many cases before on the same issue and media paid no attention before that. Just because some celebrity is under scrutiny, the whole Fault lies in the Judiciary. we need to filter our resources to have a better clarity over subjects because media works in its own whimsical way.

  4. An strong and independent judiciary forms the backbone of a democratic nation, offering succor to the common man who forms its sovereign body. It is therefore imperative that the judiciary remains an autonomous institution, free from executive influences. More crucial of course is the quality of judgement and justice rendered by the institution. Presently the Indian judiciary is plagued by a number of faults, many of which are deeply embedded in the system itself, and may take substantial effort to root out. a) Corruption - Similar to any other government organ , the judiciary has also fallen prey to the corrpution epidemic. Large-scale bribe taking and skewed judgments in favor of those with money power are a common phenomenon. Several judgments lack requisite substantiation, with misplaced evidence, lack of evidence, skewed rationale being common accompaniments. It is a barley hidden fact that corrupt judges form a nexus with law enforcement agencies, and the top levels of government executive, trading favorable judgement for spoils in cash or kind. A couple of rotten apples are sufficient to spoil the entire basket b) The sheer magnitude of the cases that are placed at the doorstep of the judiciary leads to inordinate delays in disposal of cases. The major and minor regulatory hitches along with the extensive protocol to be complied with ( as laid down by the Criminal Procedure Code, Civil Procedure Code and Indian Penal Code and the Evidence Act 1872) sees the passing of several years before the completion of even a trial. It is not difficult to see in such a circumstance that justice delayed is justice denied.

  5. In such a situation, the government would be well-advised to breathe new life into the administrative tribunals in the system. This can lessen the burden of the civil courts to a large extent by transferring disputes between the government machinery and the citizenry to these administrative tribunals. Professional and experienced bureaucrats and retired judges in these tribunals will be well placed to take informed decisions on such disputes.
    c) Perhaps the crux of the rot in the Indian legal system , is the fact that it has for its foundation an archaic framework and legal code devised and implemented during the colonial era. This is implicit in the use of the Evidence Act 1873 as the touch-stone for present day judgement despite the fact that India has made a quantum leap from its colonial days. The contemporary social, political and cultural problems faced by India require new set of legal codes and restructured legal framework to suit today’s needs. Although judicial activism has taken firm root in the system and there are frequent revisions of judgements after careful consideration of all aspects of a case, the foundational basis itself remains faulty and like a house cards could well crumble under a significant challenge. The Indian legal system must therefore reinvent itself to remain relevant in the present scenario.

  6. d) In view of the recent heated debates on the National Judicial Appointments Commission being struck down by the Supreme Court and the retention of the collegiums system, the system of appointing judges also remains very faulty. The Constitution provides for judicial independence, by providing for Presidential appointment of judges and an extremely difficult process of removal of judges under Articles124, 217, and 222. Be that as it may, the collegiums system itself has severe drawbacks. In the name of seniority, quality is compromised on and nepotism is the rule of the day. Vested interest run high along the corridors of the court and executive interference runs rampant irrespective of the method of appointment. If the cogs in the machine are themselves rusted, the machine ceases to work. The judges are the keepers of justice and law and their faults bring the effectiveness of the judiciary as a mechanism for justice. There should therefore be increased transparency in the conditions and reasons for appointment of each and every judge to the higher judiciary. At present, all the transactions of the judiciary are beyond the scope of the Right to Information Act 2005. This should be amended to bring about greater transparency in the process of appointment, transfer and removal of the judges as well as information on their qualifications and credentials. This way, the judiciary will not become an autocratic organ , rather it will be subject to the people’s review and thereby be forced to serve the people, rather than maintain a dignified , yet shadowy distance from the public eye.
    Accountability is the only way in which the judiciary can be prevented from becoming an all-powerful despot