Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Guardian of Justice

In an order that took note of the trauma inflicted on an acid attack victim, an empathetic Delhi High Court refused bail to the attacker saying that while he wanted to enjoy freedom, she was condemned to a life of pain

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The Delhi High Court recently while refusing bail to a man in an acid attack case, said: “A heinous crime such as acid attack on a woman, disfiguring her for life, in broad daylight in a thickly populated area due to a love proposition repelled by the victim, can evoke strong emotions in the society in addition to inflicting grave psychological trauma to the victim. It is in such situations and cases that the Court’s role as a guardian of justice needs to come to the fore.”

A single judge bench of Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma passed the order following a plea by the accused who sought release on the ground that the minimum punishment for the offence was 10 years and that he had already spent nine years in custody. The victim was working as a senior resident in a government hospital in Delhi. The Court went through her medical report and found that she had suffered almost 41% physical disability of her right eye. “She was however, 30 years old at the time of incident and was unmarried. She has been almost punished for her entire life as she would not be able to see the world that she had seen with her both eyes. The physical disability that the victim has suffered may not be understood by a large majority,” said the Court.

The bench said that throwing acid on a girl or any other person with a view to disfigure their faces, etc., with a malice so atrocious so as to disfigure and disable them for life, as in the present case when she was on verge of getting married, is a very serious offence. It said that it had the challenging task of deciding the bail application of the accused who allegedly committed this heinous crime, but remained conscious of his fundamental right to speedy trial and personal liberty as an accused.

The Court said it remained conscious of the fact that both parties were seeking justice from it and that it had to pass an order which would reflect the intricate process that justice follows and pass an order upholding society’s faith in the legal system, whether as a victim or an accused. The Court said that it could not close its eyes to the unseen psychological pain, and the aftermath faced by the victim and how this incident may have evoked fear and insecurity in many girls in society. “Exercising the discretion is a sensitive duty of a Court and a Court will fail in its duty in case only physical pain is assessed and it ignores the unseen, unheard, inaccessible psychological trauma and pain that an acid attack victim lives through everyday.”

Further, the Bench said that while the accused may bemoan his long incarceration when the trial was concluding, he wanted to come out of the jail to breath fresh air and be the same person again, but the Court could not ignore the fact that the victim had to wear black glasses most of her life. 

Bail orders passed by courts play a crucial role in shaping societal perceptions and behaviour as they reflect the judiciary’s stance on specific matters and can serve as a deterrent to certain offenses. It is essential for courts to bear this responsibility in mind when deliberating on bail applications, the order stated.

The bench further noted that acid attacks, characterised by their sheer brutality and devastating consequences, are among the most grievous crimes in contemporary society. They often result in life-altering injuries, causing not only physical pain, but also emotional scars that may never heal. Moreover, acid attacks send shockwaves through communities, spreading fear and anxiety. In this context, the Court’s role in granting or denying bail is of vital significance. “In conclusion, bail orders passed by the Court have a far reaching effect on the society which can be at times beyond an individual case at hand. Such orders have to carry the responsibilities of the Courts towards societal expectations and serve as a means of preventing and discouraging crimes like acid attacks. The Court, cognizant of its role as a guardian of justice and a protector of society, must employ its authority judiciously to ensure a safer, more just, and compassionate world for all,” the order read.

India has witnessed many horrific acid attacks. Last year, in a horrific incident on December 14, a 17-year-old girl on her way to school with her younger sister was attacked with an acid-like substance by two men on a motorcycle near her home in Dwarka. The accused were arrested by the Delhi police, while the victim suffered 8% burns and disfigurement of the face and neck. The accused confessed that they had watched crime shows on TV to escape from the police. During their interrogation, the police found that the acid used was bought by the accused from an e-commerce company.

In 2013, the Supreme Court while hearing a PIL filed in 2006 by a Delhi-based acid attack victim ordered the centre and state governments to regulate the sale of acid in an attempt to prevent their misuse. Accordingly, the home ministry issued an advisory to all states on how to regulate acid sale and framed the Model Poisons Possession and Sale Rules, 2013 under The Poisons Act, 1919. Also, by way of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, the Parliament introduced Section 326A in the Indian Penal Code with the aim of curbing acid attacks and providing justice to the survivors. The provision reads as under: 

“326A. Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by use of acid, etc.—Whoever causes permanent or partial damage or deformity to, or burns or maims or disfigures or disables, any part or parts of the body of a person or causes grievous hurt by throwing acid on or by administering acid to that person, or by using any other means with the intention of causing or with the knowledge that he is likely to cause such injury or hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and with fine.”

Considering the gravity of this issue, the government had recognised the need to have a specific provision in law to provide strict punishment in cases of acid attacks. 

—By Shivam Sharma and India Legal Bureau

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