Political convenience, ideological alignment, and self-serving character have often made a mockery of the criminal justice system. Parties in government have often used state machinery for their benefit and this favoritism has internally rotten the system. Moreover, this manipulation of law has resulted in the weakening of democratic principles of equality and justice. So, it becomes very important for a state to govern impartially according to the law established.
Law, State, and ‘Actors’
Recently, a trial court dismissed the Kerala government’s plea to withdraw the prosecution proceedings against actor Mohanlal related to the illegal possession of two pairs of ivory.
Earlier in 2012, during an Income Tax raid at his residence in Kochi, two pairs of illegal ivory were found in his possession. Following this, a case was registered by the Forest Department under section 50 (Power of entry, search, arrest, and detention) of the Wildlife Protection Act,1972.
Requesting the Kerala government to withdraw the case, he had claimed that the ivory was purchased legally. Following this, the Pinarayi government in Kerala had asked prosecution officers to withdraw the case. The government contended that the trial processing against the actor would be a ‘futile exercise’ and a ‘waste of the precious time’ of the court. However, the court has dismissed such contention.
Criminal offenses are considered illegal acts against the state as such offenses affect society at large. So the government has been provided with the responsibility to prosecute anyone who has been booked in criminal matters.
Further, the state also has been provided with the power to withdraw such cases under section 321 (Withdrawal from prosecution) of the Criminal Procedure Code. It provides that the public prosecutor in charge of a case may, with the consent of the court, withdraw from prosecution proceedings.
Weaponizing the said provision of the law, governments have often used it in an arbitrary manner for their personal political gains. Kerala government’s attempt to withdraw the case is not a single isolated case of such meddling in the course of justice. But, all over the country, this practice has been set by the successive governments to register or withdraw cases according to their personal gains.
In 2000, a notorious dacoit Veerappan had abducted Mr. Rajkumar, a south Indian film star from his farmhouse in Tamil Nadu. Veerappan had demanded fulfillment of certain conditions including the withdrawal of cases against the members of his gangs. Following this, the Karnataka government had filed a plea in the court to withdraw criminal cases against him citing the reason that ‘in order to restore the peace and normalcy in the state’, it is necessary to withdraw the case.
But taking a strong position against such excuses to withdraw the case, the Supreme Court had dismissed the withdrawal plea and had said that it is very important for the court to satisfy itself that “withdrawal from the prosecution in the public interest and such withdrawal will not stifle or thwart the process of law or cause manifest injustice”.
Similarly, if we look at the government’s frequent withdrawal of cases according to their political convenience, it’s true to say that they are against the public interest, thwart the process of law and cause manifest injustice.
The government’s partial application of the law is an attempt to disregard the highest virtue of a democratic setup which states that the law will be equally applicable to everyone. These unequal and favoritism tendencies in the application of law will gradually undermine the trust of the common public in rule of law and will pave the way for the degeneration of the democracy. Moreover, the law needs to take its course impartially and action against such public figures who happen to keep the law in their pocket further strengthens the trust of the public in the system.
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