Wednesday, Feb 21, 2018 | Last Update : 08:22 PM IST
Sri Lanka is a good example of a neighbouring country which has a first-rate victim/witness assistance programme enacted in 2015.
A society that is evolving and progressing exhibits a tendency to question old ways and behaviours and undertakes institutional improvements. The criminal justice system is no exception. Be it the developing world or the first world, efforts are being made to develop proficient systems which deliver better services and cater more effectively to the distinctive demands of a particular society.
In the course of such social engineering, certain latent yet equally important aspects of the criminal justice system must be taken into consideration. The study of victims is one such facet. Even though this is a multi-dimensional, scientific exploration of the victim-offender relationship, a large part of it pertains to the victims’ contact with police and the courts. It illustrates the way complainants of crime are handled by the institutions linked with the chain of criminal justice and highlights any pitfalls and obstacles that may exist. For all practical purposes, the first step towards helping a victim of violent crime is to prevent him/her from secondary victimisation. Strange though it may seem, victims frequently experience this; they suffer both psychologically and financially because of procedures such as frequent visits to the police station, following up on the investigation and then appearing recurrently in court. Often lengthy adjournments during the course of the trial cause frustration and confusion to turn into apathy, thus resulting in a declining willingness to further participate in the proceedings.
Crimes against the person, especially homicide and targeted killing, are a very traumatising experience for the victim’s immediate family members and might actually cripple them mentally for some time in their ability to recall exactly what happened. Similarly, crimes against property, such as house robberies and mobile snatching, leave the victims shocked and distressed to the point that sometimes they are unable to recover even after the culprits are caught and recovery of the stolen property is made. The psychological, physical and emotional suffering that results from these unfortunate incidents gets further aggravated once the investigation starts. The clueless victims are expected to run from pillar to post to get everything documented, stamped, verified and processed. Re-traumatisation at the hands of society, which often happens in cases of gender-based violence, sexual assault, abuse, human trafficking or drug addiction, is also an example of secondary victimisation.
It is,therefore, imperative to enact a law which protects victims from further victimisation and assists them during the criminal justice process. Victim assistance programmes ensure a victim’s right to be protected from the accused, to be fairly heard at proceedings in a timely manner, to full restitution without unnecessary delays and right to access state legal advice. The programme also incorporates witness protection for the reason that victims are also witnesses of crime and need to testify in court. These steps support the victim and shield him/her from secondary victimisation.
All efforts by society and institutions that go into the alleviation of grievances, streamlining of procedures and improvements in conviction rates, can rightly be steered towards taking steps that minimise further persecution.
Starting from the point the complainant approaches the police station to file the first information report, access to psychological counselling and legal advice can be provided. This first point of contact can alleviate the victim’s trauma and stress. Further protection can be provided by the police wherever there is a chance of a second attempt on the victim.
Sri Lanka is a good example of a neighbouring country which has a first-rate victim/witness assistance programme enacted in 2015: it is an excellent illustration of how a criminal justice system should respond to a victim who approaches it for help. There is a lot that can be learnt from good practices all around the world when it comes to victim assistance. And it goes without saying that it is the need of the hour that we as a society should channel our energy towards such a vital aspect of the criminal justice system.
By arrangement with Dawn