Move to change Indian juvenile law– a critique Monday, Dec 2 2013 

scales-of-justiceThe move to amend the Juvenile Justice Act to provide for trial of juveniles involved in crimes by regular courts is ill-advised. If at all, anybody is to determine the maturity to level of juveniles at certain age, it is to be done by psychologists; and not by courts, officials or legislators. 

The maturity level of juveniles may vary depending on the cultural, social and economic backgrounds, upbringing and several other factors. However, it is safer to have a safe higher limit, in the spirit of the principle that no innocent should be punished even if 1000 criminals go scot free.  If determination of the level of maturity and understanding is left to courts, a lot of subjectivity is likely to come in.  There is also the likelihood that poorer children would come in for harsh punishments on account of bias and inability to defend their cases strongly before courts.

As the objective of imprisonment is reforming of the criminal, it is also wise to err on the safe side instead of sending juveniles to prisons with hardened criminals.  If 18-year-olds are put in regular jails, there is little chance of their reforming. (Even the record of juvenile homes in this respect leaves much to be desired.)

Even among criminal gangs, the junior members would come under severe ‘peer pressure’ and encouragement to commit crimes which even an 18 year-old would find hard to resist. So, it needs to be determined at what age children would normally be able to resist such ‘peer pressure’ from gang leaders. This is the job of psychologists.  One need only look at Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist to learn about the compelling circumstances to which a poor boy (or girl) could fall into.

The current milieu—after a lot of public outrage over the Delhi gang rape and similar incidents, is not the right time to attempt an amendment to law.  It is notable that even false reports were perpetuated that the juvenile among the Delhi gang was the cruelest of them all. However, the testimonies that came before the Juvenile Justice Board proved that those reports were wrong and Time of India had clarified that in a report.  If the juvenile was tried in a regular court under the current milieu, and reluctance of many good lawyers to appear for him, would it have been possible for the court to objectively assess the maturity level of the juvenile cleaner of the bus?

Party surrenders Monday, Aug 13 2012 

The party has surrendered. The surrender of CPI (M) member of the Assembly T. V. Rajesh in the Shukkur murder case is not the surrender of an individual but that of the party. The party had organised a hartal that led to much violence and destruction of public property worth Rs. 3 crores when party district secretary P. Jayarajan was arrested in the same case. It had threatened investigating officers and media men when party leaders were arrested in the T. P. Chandrasekharan murder case.

In sharp contrast, party leader M. V. Jayarajan and other brought Rajesh to the court for surrender without any fuss. Even statements made by M. V.  Jayarajan was mellowed compared to the statements made during the arrest of P. Jayarajan.

The long arm of the law has reached party higher ups and it has realised that resistance would not yield much benefits. It would only lead to denial of bail to accused, if their supporters caused mayhem outside. The law has triumphed so far though it ultimate victory will be only in the successful prosecution of the accused.

Committee says no to politics in law colleges Saturday, Jul 25 2009 

legaleducationThe report of the expert committee on reforming legal education system in Kerala may shock budding politicians and political parties.
It says that law students, if they are serious of studies, could have very little leisure or vacation and cannot afford to indulge in political party activities. It wants the government to revamp legal education with classes and internship throughout the year. This should be a shocker to the budding politicians who join the Law Academy Law College in Trivandrum to continue as student leaders and graduate into politics.

The report says nothing about need for additional law colleges. It proposes separation of professional legal education from regular universities even while acknowledging that legal curriculum encompasses almost all subjects in varying degrees. It suggests that each of the nine law colleges in the State should develop into autonomous universities. Imagine nine vice chancellors and appurtenances.

But for these, the report contain solid recommendations which needed to be implemented without delay to improve the quality of lawyers produced by our law colleges. Of course, politics will have to take the backseat.

The Hindu has more about the report.

Politicians and equality before law Monday, Jan 26 2009 

Pinarayi Vijayam is embarking on a march, terming the case as politically motivated

Pinarayi Vijayam is embarking on a march, terming the case as politically motivated

The Indian Constitution  says that all citizen’s are equal before the law. However, the law makers have forged a privileged position for themselves. So, the governor’s permission is needed to prosecute politicians who occupies or had occupied positions of power in Government. Thus, one of the issues in the way of prosecution of the State  Secretary of the CPI (M) in Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan in the Lavalin case investigated by the CBI now is the necessity governor’s clearance. This in most cases would be political decisions not based on the merit of the case. The ordinary citizen would have no such benefit.

Former Chief Ministers Prakash Singh Badal (Punjab), S. R. Bommai (Karnataka), Lalu Prasad Yadav (Bihar) and Mayawati (U. P) are people who have benefited from provisions of Criminal Procedure Code and other laws relating to framing of charges against them. In Kerala, the palmolein case former Chief Minister K. Karunakaran dragged on for years over such special provisions. The CBI case against the former Minister of Electricity in Kerala Padmarajan  could not proceed for want of permission.

Kerala’s Lok Ayukta, which can investigated complaints against Ministers and others, consists of persons having the rank of High Court Judges. However, they have no punitary powers. There recommendations to prosecute offenders would have to go to the political executive for action. Even University syndicate members can take cover under these provisions.

The special provisions for those who held positions of authority in Government is purported to protect bona fide actions. However, they now come in the way of justice.

Kerala Government wants people to govern Friday, Apr 25 2008 

Kerala SecretariatThe LDF government and local self governments have been so ineffective in governing the State over the last two years that they are turning to people for help.

The Minister for Local Self Government Paloli Mohammedkutty had issued directives to the local self-governments that they should forthwith stop unauthorised constructions and take action against those who had broken the law. But nothing significant happened. The secretaries of the local bodies did not want to demolish the buildings of influential people with political backing. Many resumed constructions despite stop memos.

Now the Minister has announced that boards would be put up before unauthorised constructions stating which all provisions of the law they had broken. This is to enable the people to “take action” if the builder resumes work.

The secretaries of the local bodies cannot be blamed for inaction, as one knows what happened to the much-trumpeted Munnar evictions. The last stand of the Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan was to put up a board saying that government land was government land.

It is not to be thought of that display boards as a solution to administrative inefficiency is unique to the LDF Government. A public works minister in the UDF administration had announced some years back that boards would be put up near construction sites announcing the name of contractor and details of the contract. The public was to oversee that the contractor did not cheat the government after successive governments failed to check corruption in the Public Works Department. Similar solutions have been announced for ending corruption in the offices of the Motor Vehicles Department also. (Notices boards were to be put up showing the fee rates and ban on touts in the premises.) A few boards were put up and that was the end of it.

When the administration fails to check crime and corruption, the usual refrain of the government is that the laws are inadequate or call for people’s participation. The infamous goonda act was proposed by the previous government and brought into effect by the present government. However, the Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act did not end goodaism as almost every gooda worth his name has political patrons. Now, the government is talking of enlisting public support and cooperation to end crime. It expects residential associations and others to keep tab on criminal elements and help the police to apprehend them. Wishful thinking! The ultimate question is whether the government would be able to hoodwink the people for long through such exercises.

An unnecessary Act to check crime Sunday, Nov 11 2007 

Crime controlA year after the enactment of Kerala Anti Social Activities (Prevention) Ordinance providing for preventive detention of known delinquents, goondas are still at large. In fact, the Ordinance and the Act that replaced it subsequently were unnecessary and dangerous legislation. Unnecessary because it would serve little purpose. Dangerous because it could be misused anytime.

The Ordinance was a modified version of the Felonious Activities (Prevention) Ordinance brought by the previous Oommen Chandy Government (United Democratic Front). It was one of the several gimmicks played by that Government to show that it was acting fast when it was left with hardly a year to show results. Crime was mounting and the Ordinance was presented as the answer to that.

When the Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government came to power, there was no let up to the operations of criminal gangs. Mr. Chandy, who is now the Opposition Leader, took the Government to task for neglecting his Ordinance. So, the LDF Government also found it expedient to reenact the legislation, which had lapsed. As the LDF had opposed the draconian provisions of the law when in the Opposition, it found a way out by incorporating some provisions that, it claimed, would prevent misuse of the law. But preventive detention is nothing but preventive detection.

The police establishment generally welcomed the measure as they could keep people in custody without taking the trouble of investigating crimes and prosecuting goondas successfully. Now, troublemakers could be held to the whims and fancies or pulls and pressures.

The goonda menace was increasing in the State not because it lacked effectives laws. There are enough laws in the statute book that can be used to put almost anyone in jail. Innocents are not safe if someone decides to use the existing laws deviously. (In fact, the statute book is in need of a pruning.)

The real problem is that the laws are always applied selectively. The reason behind that is the nexus between goons, police and the politicians. The goonda menace is not going to end as along the nexus exists. Harsh laws would increase the stakes but not break the nexus. Only a clean government can break the nexus and end the menace.