Victims in criminal case be awarded compensation: SC

Courts must not only convict and punish the guilty in criminal cases but should also award compensation to the victims, the Supreme Court has held.

The apex court expressed concern that victims in criminal cases are not awarded compensation for the loss and damage suffered by them despite clear provision of law for this and said that all judges dealing with criminal cases be made aware about it.

"Section 357 Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) confers a duty on the Court to apply its mind to the question of compensation in every criminal case. It necessarily follows that the Court must disclose that it has applied its mind to this question in every criminal case," a bench of justices T S Thakur and Gyan Sudha Misra said.

The bench said victims should not be "forgotten" by courts while deciding criminal cases and it is court's obligation to apply mind in granting compensation in each case.

"...it appears to us that the provision confers a power coupled with a duty on the courts to apply its mind to the question of awarding compensation in every criminal case. We say so because in the background and context in which it was introduced, the power to award compensation was intended to reassure the victim that he or she is not forgotten in the criminal justice system.

"The victim would remain forgotten in the criminal justice system if despite Legislature having gone so far as to enact specific provisions relating to victim compensation, Courts choose to ignore the provisions altogether and do not even apply their mind to the question of compensation," the bench said.

CrPC was amended in 2008 on the recommendations of Law Commission and Section 357A was introduced under which the Court is empowered to direct the State to pay compensation to the victim.

This is in those cases where the compensation awarded under Section 357 is not adequate for such rehabilitation, or where the case ends in acquittal or discharge and the victim has to be rehabilitated.

"Under this provision, even if the accused is not tried but the victim needs to be rehabilitated, the victim may request the State or District Legal Services Authority to award him/her compensation," the bench said, adding "Sub-section(3) of Section 357 further empowers the Court by stating that it may award compensation even in such cases where the sentence imposed does not include a fine".

"The long line of judicial pronouncements of this Court recognised in no uncertain terms a paradigm shift in the approach towards victims of crimes who were held entitled to reparation, restitution or compensation for loss or injury suffered by them. This shift from retribution to restitution began in the mid 1960s and gained momentum in the decades that followed," the bench said.

The apex court said that copy of its order be forwarded to the Registrars General of the High Courts in the country for circulation among the Judges handling criminal trials and hearing appeals.

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