The decision of the Supreme Court to review one of its orders and another of the executive has come as a great relief to people who were worried that the orders harmed the cause of justice in an unprecedented manner.
The Supreme Court’s July 27 judgment in a case that challenged provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA), had upset not just jurists but also people who believed in the fundamental rights a democracy offers. The apex court held that the Enforcement Directorate is not a police force and hence the restrictions placed on police while dealing with citizen’s rights are not applicable to it. It also upheld the provision that the burden of proof lay on the accused.
The observations came at a time when there are allegations coming from all over the country about the Enforcement Directorate being used by the ruling dispensation to target political opposition. Moreover, the federal agency has faced allegations that it has misused legal provisions that were aimed to help it crack white collar crimes such as money laundering. In fact, the Supreme Court itself had once caught the agency red-handed when it tried to impress upon the bench that the accused had indeed confessed to the crime and hence must be punished as per the law. The court, in its final judgment, however called the confessional statement a figment of the federal agency’s imagination and let the person walk free.
It is in this background that the court has chosen to review its order on two key aspects — not providing an Enforcement Case Information Report and reversal of the presumption of innocence. Restoration of the basic rights that were sacrificed to administrative expediency will go a long way in the restoration of the people’s faith in legal process. The court can be reassured that none with a stake in the survival of the country will have an objection to legal measures to chase black money and prosecute its owners.
Equally reassuring is the court’s decision to review the order of the Gujarat government to give remission to 11 persons who were convicted for the gangrape of a pregnant woman and the murder of her three-year old daughter and other family members. The state government had gone by the recommendations of the district level committee which favoured the release of the convicted criminals in one of the most gruesome incidents that took place during the Gujarat riots of 2002.
While issuing notice to the Union and state governments, the apex court suggested that remissions were being offered to people recklessly and wondered if there was proper application of mind in the instant case. The court also said it will also look into the question as to whether the decision was within the parameters of law amid reports that the guidelines of the Gujarat government in force now bars it from granting remissions to people convicted of murder and rape. The state government, however, banked on a Supreme Court order which directed it to decide the case based on an earlier policy wherein there was no such objection.
Governments can bank on technicalities but their decisions, even while showing mercy to the convicted, should aim at strengthening people’s trust in the legal system. Any action which produces a result to the contrary would ultimately weaken the democracy. It’s the people’s trust on which democracy thrives, not on narrow interpretations of the law.