The circumstances under which the Justice Verma-led committee was appointed were rather horrifying. The news of Delhi gang rape had made international headlines, and a three-member committee was formed by the Union government for recommending changes to the criminal law. But it is the Justice Verma committee report that finally caused a tiny legal dent that the Malimath committee couldn’t.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, pursuant to some of the recommendations of the Verma committee, was enacted in April 2013.
“Though the recommendations made by Malimath and Verma committees were only partially implemented, and did not deal with the rights of the victims in criminal trials, yet the journey from Malimath to Verma was tortuous and worth noting for future guidance and for demands for future changes in existing legal provisions,” said Umanath.
It wasn’t until 2009 that the definition of ‘victim’ was included in the Code of Criminal Procedure. It said that a ‘victim’ was one who had suffered loss or injury caused by reason of an act or omission that the accused was charged with. The term ‘victim’ also included their guardian or legal heir.
In the inquisitorial model, the accused would be questioned and the judge would arrive at the root of the case. But here, the accused has the right to remain silent, and in cases similar to these, men often end up tainting the victim’s statement and creating ‘reasonable doubt’. If the accused successfully plants a seed of doubt in the mind of the judge, the adversarial model can’t incriminate him.
In cases of rape, the accused often ends up challenging the case through ambiguous morality standards by which the society unequally holds the women responsible.
Free legal services for victims are hard to access. If they succeed at getting them, they are only valid at the time of the trial and not from the moment of the alleged crime. Until as recently as 2008, the victim didn’t have any statutory right to oppose an acquittal, challenge a bail plea by the accused, or contest the inadequacy of a sentence.
In most cases, the victim isn’t even privy to the judgements or orders made in her case, and there is no obligation within the law to keep her informed.
The accused, however, enjoys the constitutional right to legal assistance at all stages of investigation. The victim ends up facing problems at every step of her near impossible attempt at seeking justice. The police is notorious for its harassment (and, even, sexual assault), among other ills, such as refusing to file a formal complaint by the victim.