Independent body, unlike CBI, needed for security: expert

By Murali Krishnan, IANS

New Delhi : The author of a key draft policy on criminal justice has advocated the setting up of a separate body to deal with crimes threatening the country’s security that will be accountable only to the judiciary.

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Madhava Menon, who headed the committee on a national policy on criminal justice, believes an agency like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is not “independent” enough for the job.

“People want efficiency and accountability from the system and zero tolerance against corruption,” Menon, whose report is groundbreaking in its recommendations, told IANS.

In his report submitted to Home Minister Shivraj Patil last week, Menon, a former director of the National Judicial Academy and the prestigious Bangalore- based National Law School, has suggested setting up a separate authority at the national level to deal with crimes threatening the country’s security.

Such a professional body, he insists, should be comparable to the Election Commission or the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. He feels the CBI is not “independent” enough for the job nor does it have the resources, jurisdiction or personnel required.

“(The new body’s) accountability should only be to the law and courts and it must have the freedom to investigate cases across the nation and a budget not dependent on executive fiat,” adds Menon.

The report has expressed serious concern over crimes affecting national security like terrorism, hijacking and drug trafficking and suggested that crimes relating to internal security be classified as federal crimes.

“There is widespread dissatisfaction with the way crimes are investigated and criminals prosecuted by our existing criminal justice system, which in public perception, affords little protection to life and property,” says Menon.

“It obviously renders criminality as a low risk and high profit business.”

It is for these reasons that the committee has set out a roadmap for criminal law reform, both in substantive and procedural laws, reforms of police, prosecution, courts , prisons and an improvement in personnel and management of the criminal justice system. “People want security irrespective of which level of government or what agency of government provides it. Since the country is fast moving on the path of economic development, let the criminal justice system render the necessary climate for growth,” Menon says. To put in place a more transparent and effective method of dealing with corruption in the judiciary, Menon wants all judges to make public their assets annually to a judicial ombudsman, appointed by the president in consultation with the chief justice of India.

“The judicial ombudsman can be associated with the body created under the Judicial Inquiry Bill for disciplining erring judges.”

The panel, set up in May last year, also favours a complete revamp of the entire criminal procedure system and has mooted the creation of a fund to compensate victims who turn hostile due to pressure from culprits.

Anguished over the absence of any serious attempt to standardise prison term norms, the committee also favoured a national policy on sentencing.

Referring to punishments and sentencing, the report said there has to be some serious rethinking on the philosophy, justification and impact of sentencing in criminal justice administration.

“Equality in sentencing is not pursued vigorously and there is no serious attempt yet to standardise the sentencing norms and procedures. The objects of punishment are not served in many cases as a result of such incoherent sentencing practices,” the report said.

Asked whether the government would act on the report or it would meet a similar fate like the Model Police Act, drafted by the Soli Sorabjee panel that focuses on professionalisation of the police force, Menon seemed hopeful.

“Civil society groups, the media and even lawmakers will understand the absolute necessity of criminal justice reform. Moreover, there will be lobbies that will want this (report) to be translated into action,” he said.

The Sorabjee report, submitted to the government in November last year, had called for drastic changes in the 145-year-old Police Act – to introduce fixed two-year tenures for police officers down the line, from the director general of police to the station house officer, as well as the separation of law and order maintenance from crime investigation duties among other reforms.

But many state governments are reluctant to introduce these reforms – law and order being a state subject – even though the Supreme Court is strictly monitoring it and asking for compliance reports.