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“Legislative framework for Compensation and Rehabilitation for terror exonerees”

In an event at the Press Club of India on 10 December 2016, Justice AP Shah, former Chairperson of the Law Commission of India, released a report regarding the Legislative framework for compensation and rehabilitation for innocents acquitted in terror cases.

On 2 October this year, Innocence Network India had organized the first People's Tribunal on Acquitted Innocents in terrorism cases. Fifteen innocents from across the country had deposed in front of an eminent jury headed by Justice A.P Shah (former CJI, Delhi High Court and Chairman of the 20th Law Commision of India). Other members of the jury included noted filmmaker Saeed Akhtar Mirza, G.S. Bajpai (Registrar, NLU Delhi), noted journalist Neena Vyas, Delhi School academic Nandini Sundar, TISS Deputy Director Abdul Shaban, journalist Vinod Sharma and advocate Monica Sakrani.

At the event, Justice Shah read out the recommendations of the jury after the release of the report. He pointed out that the issue of forced onfessions extracted under duress, delay in granting bail, wrongful detention, malicious prosecution, and presenting fabricated evidence has become endemic to terror prosecution. Hence, the violence on those who have been accused of terror crimes is much more than ordinary crime and hence legitimatises corrective mechanisms by the State. '

Manisha Sethi of the JTSA said that it was important that a network like the Innocence Network exists to take up the issues of those who have been wrongfully prosecuted. The network called for a people's trbunal as it was necessary that such voices get heard. This is happeneing for the first time in the country. All stakeholders including the government and the judiciary need to give strong attention to the voice of those who have been violated.

The jury report points out that the depositions explicitly make clear all that is wrong with the criminal justice system when it comes to dealing with cases of terrorism. The jury, while recognizing the need for the State to provide compensation to the victims for their wrongful conviction, identified different stakeholders involved in the entire process of arrest and acquittal. Following are the key suggestions of the Jury:

1) Compensation: A rights-based approach should be adopted by the State to grant compensation to the victims of wrongful actions of the State. The amount of compensation must be decided on a case to case basis taking into account both pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses.

2) Accountability: The police officials involved in such cases must be held accountable. A departmental inquiry must be conducted against them. Further, these police officials should be made criminally liable for the malicious acts done by them in their official capacity.

3) Guidelines for Media: The media ought to be cognizant of its power to devastate lives through sensationalism and partisan reporting. The media must refrain from pronouncing the accused as guilty till a formal pronouncement is made by a court of law. Further, the media must publish an apology if it had written defamatory material against the acquitted innocent at the time of his arrest.

4) Legislative Reforms: Article 14(6) of the ICCPR must be incorporated into legislative framework. The Prevention of Torture Bill should be passed by Parliament. Provisions of the anti-terror laws, Indian Evidence Act and Criminal Procedure Code should be amended to hold erring officers accountable and to curb custodial violence.

5) Institutional and Societal Reforms: Human Rights bodies such as NHRC and SHRCs must establish a dedicated cell to look into the cases of acquitted persons. The public must also make an active attempt towards rehabilitation of such acquitted persons.

Failure of Human Rights bodies: The Jury showed great dismay at the failure of the human rights bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission and various state human rights commissions to acknowledge the issue and intervene in such cases of wrongful arrests and prosecution.

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