Bill Clinton faced the mortification of impeachment process
and lame duck presidency because of his readiness to lie
his way out of trouble before the public and the court under
Archer's promising political career in Britain was rudely
cut short twice - once for lying to the public, and the
second time for perjury. In fact, he had to serve a prison
term, and was released only recently for good behaviour
after years in jail.
why do we lie under oath habitually? Obviously it is wholly
unsustainable to argue that Indians have no respect for
truth. In reality, Indians generally speak the truth in
their own habitat and among peers. But when it comes to
trials in a court, the same people do not think twice about
lying under oath.
are two deep-seated causes for such strange propensity to
perjury. First, the alien justice system imposed by the
colonial rulers is both incomprehensible and inaccessible
to people. In such a hostile and bewildering environment,
truth is always a casualty. The normal inhibition imposed
by peers disappears in a dilatory process in alien language.
Touts and professional witnesses who lie under oath for
a price have thus flourished. Things have come to such a
sorry pass that even to establish real facts the prosecution
habitually resorts to false witnesses!
our adversarial criminal justice system inadvertently encourages
and rewards cheating and other unsavoury practices in order
to 'win' the case. When evidence before the court is all
that matters and the judge is more a passive umpire and
not an active seeker of truth, the lawyers have a field
day. It is the reputation and skill of the advocate, not
the merits of the case or truth, which often lead to 'victory'.
Therefore, careful tutoring of witness, inducements, and
involved arguments have become acceptable practices over
a period of time. As most people anyway despair of ever
obtaining justice through formal courts, what happens in
courts has become largely inconsequential to society. The
schism between societal mores and behaviour in courts has
widened over time.
we need to award exemplary punishments to people guilty
of perjury. The law does provide for imprisonment up to
7 years and fine (section 193 of IPC). In cases of capital
offences, the imprisonment may extend to ten years. But,
given the near-universal practice of perjury, no court considers
perjury a serious offence any longer! Therefore, we need
to look at two more solutions.
we need a system of local courts with summary procedures
in local language for most simple cases. These local courts
must function like the justices of the peace (JPs) in Britain,
or "People's Courts" in the US, and adopt people-friendly
procedures. And they should hold court and hear cases in
the community and at the scene of offence or cause of action
as far as practicable. People will start speaking truth
under oath only when judicial process becomes accessible
and intelligible. Most people will never perjure themselves
in front of their peers. Once a culture of respect for due
process, and trust in courts, is restored, perjury will
be regarded as an unacceptable offence by society.
we need to move towards a more activist role for the judge.
The judge must be enabled to actively pursue truth, and
must not be a silent witness to lawyers' antics. And he
should be permitted to admit all credible evidence keeping
in mind the circumstances of the case, without any fetters.
While the standard of proof in criminal cases must continue
to be proof beyond reasonable doubt as now, the special
rights accorded to the accused - the right to remain silent,
and no recourse to appeal if prosecution fails - should
be withdrawn. These steps along with independent crime investigation
under judicial supervision will make the search for truth
more easy, and justice more likely. Some of the recommendations
of Malimath Committee to this effect deserve serious consideration.
society which cannot enforce its own laws will soon degenerate
into a lawless and violent society. The string of prosecution
failures in some of the heinous cases in recent years must
propel us into well-considered, decisive action to reform
our criminal justice system.