‘Criminal justice at crossroads’
Seventeen years after the murder of Diana Clare Routley, a 22-year-old girl from New Zealand, the Supreme Court recently altered the imprisonment of the accused Dharam Deo Yadav, a tourist guide, from death penalty to ‘20 years of rigorous imprisonment, over and above the period already undergone by the accused.’ Diana was gruesomely murdered during her visit to Varanasi in 1997. Earlier, the trial and high court had awarded death penalty to Yadav, but it came to light that he had helped the police in recovering Diana’s skeletal remains. Even though the high court had upheld the trial court’s order confirming death sentence, the SC judgement said there was ‘no eye-witness version’ and ‘the entire case rests upon the circumstantial evidence.’
A bench of Justices KS Radhakrishnan and AK Sikri then made a striking observation and said, ‘Criminal judicial system in this country is at crossroads. Reliable witnesses to the crime seldom come forward to depose before the court and even the hardened criminals get away from the clutches of law. Even the reliable witnesses for the prosecution turn hostile due to intimidation, fear and host of other reasons. Investigating agency has, therefore, to look for other ways and means to improve the quality of probe, which can only be through the collection of scientific evidence.’
The bench said agencies must ‘improve the quality of investigation.’ They also added that there was a need to ‘strengthen the forensic science for crime detection.’ The bench said the crime did not fall under the category of rarest of rare case. ‘We are inclined to commute the death sentence to life and award 20 years of rigorous imprisonment, over and above the period already undergone by the accused’, said the bench.