Opinion Pieces

Conviction Before Acquittal

This article was submitted to us by Sacchit Joshi, a second-year student at the Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar. Hailing from Mumbai, Sacchit is a passionate national-level athlete.

“Trials are intended, to make us think, to wean us from the world…”

A well-pitched courtroom trial is not a trial under which a man has submitted himself under the conscience of good law, equity, and justice. It is a trial, which envisages all the aspects of truth, evidence, assumptions on the framework of logic and reason; making a step towards a well-pitched and fair trial, the consequences of which would be good law, equity, and justice.

Globalization and the surge of liberal thought has opened new vistas for critical analysis and sought to question, what went unanswered or even unquestioned a century ago.

A by-product of the same is unwarranted criticism devoid of rational and in-depth analysis of the subject of criticism. Especially in a country like India, where mass media play a crucial role in framing public opinion or herd mentality, the fourth pillar of democracy has been a platform for the voices of the unheard and done good to the society. Having said that, the media, substantiating on their soft power has been detrimental to good law, equity, justice when it comes to conveying their own view on an episode concerning the legal fraternity, thereby, misleading masses who have virtually no access to first hand information of the episode nor any means for a counterview. It is at this juncture that, media assumes the role of a court of law and conducts its own media trials. Taking a leaf from the recent Bombay High Court verdict on Salman Khan’s case controversy – which assumed a virtual violent form as manifested by the people of the country taking to social networking and micro-blogging sites to vehemently criticize the High Court’s judgment. Hash-tags and posts flooded the social media, protesting against the failure of the judiciary to convict the actor. However, an imperative point to be noted is that, the opinions, anger, manifestations put forth were based solely on media, newspaper reports, and articles. Newspapers and other media profusely criticized and projected an image of a wrongful or a sinful act committed by the Bombay HC. The media through its process of media trial had successfully convicted the actor in the eyes of the people of this country, even before he was practically tried before a court of law. Now, the media glides into the domain of judiciary, subsequently sitting judgment over an issue and thrusting the same on the people of India without giving them a counterview. The media not only flouts ethical standards of doing injustice to a person even before the person’s guilt is conclusively established, but also goes against its primary focus of providing pure information bereft of the journalist’s bias. In line with the same, battling the sandbox created by the media, Justice Joshi (presiding judge of the case) stated that he (Salman Khan) could not be convicted by popular perception; careful analysis of the evidence collected is required.

The people of India had genuinely believed that the actor was at fault no matter what and, wanted to see him convicted and would have accepted no decision in deviance of that, irrespective of and in stark contradiction to the formal rules and principles of logic and reason. The court proceeding had boiled down to people’s emotions rather than the evidence gathered and the submissions from either side. The media plays a vital role in creating solid emotions, opinions, and exercises that control as a mother might have over the child in the formative years.

The growing involvement of the media in sensitive issues without due understanding of the subject and devoid of adequate thought process could lead to moulding of popular notions in a catastrophic manner, thereby, putting the institution of courts at stake.

Coming back to the Bombay High Court judgment, a careful analysis in the study of the 305 page judgment reveals that evidence on which sessions court had implicated Salman Khan with the said charges could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt in the HC. Moreover, the witnesses had altered their testimonies multiple times, subsequently, leaving the HC in a state of ambiguity. The court also observed that the investigation for the said case was conducted in a careless faulty manner with scant regard to the established procedure laid down by law. Contrary to the mass opinions, the courts in all proceedings have to proceed and dispense justice in accordance with the evidence submitted before the court, collaborated with the testimony of the witnesses and submissions therein, in line with the established procedure of law. Any contravention to the same would be doing injustice to either person, leaving the organ of judiciary in utter chaos and subject to criticism from the legal fraternity. Thus, the focal point of failure or the burden of inflicting injustice rests on the prosecution’s office for not doing justice to the assigned work.

The underlining theme of the same is that the threshold of innocence or guilt shouldn’t be subject to influence by the media or a bunch of journalists with no or very little importance to facts gathered in the framework of logic and reason or the procedure established by law, but are rather led by instinctive or emotional analysis of right and wrong. Lastly, I would conclude by saying that not all the persons acquitted by a court of law would be innocent. Nevertheless, one needs to demarcate a line as to who gets to decide what is right and wrong. However, having a construct or a structure in place minimizes the scope of error and compels the judiciary to dispense justice in line with the established procedure and reasoning, although it still does not make the sanctum impenetrable.

To sum it up all, Gandhi once said, “There is a higher court than the courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.”

DISCLAIMER: The views represented above are that of the author alone and do not reflect the views of the magazine, Ergo. No legal liability or other responsibility is accepted by or on behalf of Ergo for any errors, omissions, claims or statements on this site, or any site to which these pages connect.  We accept no responsibility for any loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of reliance on such information.

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