Sathankulam Tyranny- The Irony Of The Main Story And Side Stories In Criminal Justice Administration

Due to the timely intervention of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, the report of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Kovilpatti, and the deposition of the woman head constable in the Magisterial Inquiry, four of the main accused have been arrested by the Tamil Nadu Police. Arresting the accused within fifteen days of the occurrence of the crime may not be considered as immediate in the circumstances. But the Government should not be accused of unreasonable delay as the Administrative and the Executive process of the Tamil Nadu Government was in operation. Now we understand that the State Government has decided to hand over the matter to the CBI, for investigation. As per the direction of the Madras High Court, the CBCID will continue the investigation until the case is handed over to the CBI. The post-mortems of the victims were concluded by a competent team of Government doctors under videography. So far, so good. (or bad?)

The social media and the national press have been highlighting the complementary roles of the Magistrate who remanded the accused, and the doctors who certified that the deceased was fit enough to be remanded to Judicial Custody. Furthermore, there were reports that the accused police officers were earlier accused of police high-handedness, cruelty, and torture of other suspects as well. Apparently, yet another victim of different and earlier police torture had died a month after suffering police torture. These side stories which should not delay the conclusion of the main story, namely, the accused police officers must be expeditiously tried for the murder in a fair trial. Already, there is a huge public outcry against the Police and it is doubtful whether the accused Police Officers will receive a fair trial in Tamil Nadu. We do not know how this side story will unfold in the future.

Just about a month prior to the occurrence of this crime, one of the police officers had assaulted and inflicted physical cruelty on yet another group of Christian preachers under the pretext of inquiry and investigation. Apparently, the victims have complained to the immediate superior officer who, apparently, has not taken any action. Had the immediate superior officer warned the offending policemen against the employment of third-degree methods during investigations, possibly these murders could have been avoided. Being an IPS officer, it is the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Department of Personnel to take a final decision in this regard to see if there is a lapse on his part. Already there are unconfirmed reports/rumors that the people who are generally sympathetic to the Sterlite agitators are selectively targeted. If this is really so, it will have even wider ramifications. But this again is yet another side story which could delay the conclusion of the main story, namely, expedited fair trial for a murder charge.

The negligence or complicity of the Judicial Magistrate who remanded the accused despite the alleged offenses not being very serious is perplexing. During normal times, this is a case for immediate bail, and during COVID-19 times, it should have been even more liberal in view of the judicial precedents. Hon’ble Justice Mr. Chandru has publicly demanded that the Judicial Magistrate be sacked in view of his prima facie negligent discharge of duty. Only further investigation will disclose whether the Magisterial negligence strays into the area of Culpable Negligence. But then, the Magistrate would enjoy statutory immunity, if he can prove the absence of bad faith. Surely, his conduct must also be investigated. Actually, the Madras High Court has a functioning Judicial Vigilance Wing. I presume that the Madras High Court will also be investigating the complicity of the Judicial Magistrate in this cruel tragedy. But again, this is yet another side story.

Everybody points out that the first doctor who examined the deceased businessmen before the curfew offenders were remanded to police custody has been culpably negligent. If the credible leaks on the post-mortem report are to be believed, the doctor ought to have referred the curfew offenders for treatment to a Government or private hospital. His or her failure to do so has cost two precious lives. One has to investigate further to see whether the doctor in question extended any undue favors to the accused policemen by concealing the medical facts that a reasonable examination would have disclosed. He or she should be questioned on whether he or she examined the accused fully, and if not, he or she is guilty of obstruction of justice and falsification of evidence. But more will be known when the charge sheet is filed and the trial of the accused policemen is concluded. The prosecution of the medical officers either for negligence or complicity of the accused police officer can wait as it is another side story which can further delay the process of the conclusion of the main story, namely, the conclusion of the murder trial. I guess the side stories can wait as they will delay the conclusion of the main story.

Surely, the prison department of the Tamil Nadu Government will also be facing embarrassing questions. Whether they were negligent or covering up the torture routinely, as they used to in the past, will become more evident in the days to come. But the million-dollar question which still remains is how long the CBI will take for the conclusion of the trial. Even in the Pollachi sex scandal, the trial has not even commenced, despite the fact that the vernacular press has unearthed substantial evidence of wrongdoing by the politically powerful accused. To me, in this case, most of the evidence needed to expeditiously conclude the murder trial of the accused policemen are available, and it is not too difficult for the CBCID Tamil Nadu, the CBI, and the Judicial Vigilance Wing of the Madras High Court to conclude the investigation within a period of six months and the trial within the next six months. There are other watchdogs like the National Human Rights Commission, who are keeping track of the investigation. In these circumstances, the CBI must be directed to complete the conclusion of the trial within one year of the Tamil Nadu CBCID handing over the case and their preliminary findings to the CBI. If this does not happen, then it will be “justice delayed is justice denied”.

About the expert:

R Muralidharan is a Patent & Trademark Attorney, Professor, a registered Patent Agent, Mediator. He was a Research Fellow, Department of Legal Studies, University of Madras (1984-1986) Assistant Professor, NLSIU, Bangalore (1988-1992) Visiting Lecturer, Univ. Law College Bangalore (1993-1996), Infosys Research Fellow, NLSIU Bangalore (2000 – 2002). He is also a visiting faculty at the NLSIU, Bangalore, NALSAR.


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