The law ministry will examine a proposal next week to make victims of serious crimes or their kin party to the trials, in a move aimed at giving them more say in the judicial process, officials said.
Under prevailing criminal law, victims are mere spectators or at best witnesses in trials pertaining to offences committed on them. Even appeals against acquittal of the accused are filed by the state at its discretion.
If approved, criminal law will have to be amended to ensure that victims get the right to participate in the trials and the right to appeal “against any adverse order passed by the court acquitting the accused”.
Heinous crimes include rape, murder, attempt to murder and other such offences.
In its meeting next on Tuesday, the law minister-headed advisory council on justice delivery and legal reforms will discuss the proposal among several others to bring in reforms. This will be the 10th meeting of the council.
Officials said the council will examine recommendations of the 13-year old Malimath Committee which said the “present system is completely insensitive to the rights of the victims.”
“The victim and if he/she is dead his legal representative should have the right to be impleaded as a party in every criminal proceeding, where the offence is punishable with seven year imprisonment or more,” the committee had recommended.
Currently, the state employs public prosecutors who represent it against the accused in a trial. On the other hand, the accused get the right to choose their counsel.
The committee had said that victims of such crimes should have the right to be represented by an advocate of their choice and in cases where they cannot afford lawyers, the state is duty-bound to provide legal help.
The proposal’s approval could lead to mixed results, according to criminal lawyer Siddharth Aggarwal. There could be more delays and confusion “on who is leading the prosecution”. The change will also increase the existing rich-poor divide in delivery of justice, he added.
Neelam Krishnamurthy of the Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy said the changes are over-due.
“Our experience shows that we were at the mercy of the state. If the evidence is not led properly at the trial stage, the accused can get acquitted,” she said.
A fire at the Uphaar cinema in Delhi had killed 59 people on June 13, 1997. Families of the victims allege that the accused got away lightly despite the number of deaths.