This article is written by Soubhratra Bhattacharjee and the article has been edited by Khushi Sharma (Trainee Associate, Blog iPleaders).
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History of the Jury System in India
The jury system during trials is not a new thing in India as it was once conducted here until 1973 while the British were still in power. The establishment of such jury system was more of a western innovation which replaced the traditional Panchayati Raj system before the British came in power. Juries were basically a group of people mostly 12 in number and they had the duty to give verdicts based on the evidences and witnesses submitted to them. However, such a system was subject to various controversies which eventually led to the decline of the jury system not only in India, but also worldwide which is discussed later in the article. The very first case heard by a jury was in 1665 where one Ms Ascentia Dawes was charged with the killing of an Indian slave girl. The jury consisted of six Englishmen and six Portuguese people and she was found guilty of the crime, however she was acquitted because of the mentality of the crime. Gradually, the jury system became biased and favourable towards the British thereby ignoring the ruthless oppression done towards the Indians.
Basic concept of the Jury System
The Jury System as discussed earlier consists of a group of people specialised in the field of law and who are entrusted with the task to produce a decision on the submission of relevant facts and evidences in a case trial. In this system, it is the Judge who explains to the jury about the applicable laws in a particular case and with that the jury has to apply them in the evidences and determine a verdict. A criminal trial always included 12 jurors while the law allowed up to two jurors to be excused as the trial proceeded.
However, a Judge and a Jury cannot be held as similar. A Judge is an individual who is tasked with presiding over a case proceeding while a jury is a group of people who have sworn in to give a verdict to a case as is given to them by the court. A trial by jury is preferred, mostly in the US, as the attorneys can use emotional arguments which may turn the case in their favour. Ironically, this is also a reason behind the decline of jury trials worldwide, including the US as the juries are often subject to biasness and partiality.
The Nanavati Case
The Nanavati Case, also known as KM Nanavati vs State of Maharashtra (AIR 1962 SC 605), is considered as one of the most important cases in the whole Indian legal history. This case also officially marks the end of jury trials in India. However, the Nanavati case is not the last case which was heard by a jury. The last case to be heard by a jury in India is discussed below in the Article. Returning to this case, Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati ( also known as Rustom Pavri), a senior commanding naval officer, was charged with the murder of Prem Ahuja, his wife’s lover. The detailed facts of the case is discussed below:
- The case of KM Nanavati vs State of Maharashtra was a 1959 Indian court case, where the accused was charged with the murder of his wife’s lover, Prem Ahuja. This incident attracted a lot of media coverage and many books were written based on this incident. Initially Nanavati was declared not guilty by a jury, but the verdict was dismissed by the Bombay High Court and the matter was retried as a bench trial.
- The accused, Nanavati was second in command of the Indian Naval Ship ‘Mysore’. He was married to Sylvia and had three children.
- Prem Ahuja was an automobile businessman and was also the Agnik who in turn was the friend of Nanavati. There he introduced Ahuja to the Nanavati’s and a friendship between them was formed.
- The accused, being in naval services had to leave Bombay frequently for work, thus leaving behind his family. For this reason, Sylvia Nanavati felt lonely and started to talk with Prem Ahuja which slowly turned into a good friendship.
- However, this friendship led to an illicit relationship between the two and for this Sylvia Nanavati felt extremely guilty.
- As a result, she admitted about her illicit relationship to her husband, which got him enraged leading to the murder of Ahuja.
- For this Nanavati went to his ship and took a semi-automatic revolver along with six cartridges from the ship’s store on a false pretext.
- Later he went to Ahuja’s house and entered his bedroom to shoot him dead.
- After conducting such act, he later turned himself to the police and was arrested under the section 302 of Indian Penal Code. This case was primarily to be heard at the Sessions Court.
This is the facts about this famous case.
The Court in this case held that the murder was a well-processed and thoughtful one, which certainly did not attract Exception 1 of Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code as the accused also failed to bring the case under General exceptions by adducing evidence. For this, the Court found the accused guilty under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced him to imprisonment for life.
The majority of the people know that the Nanavati case is the last case that was conducted by a jury only because of the media attention it got. But the real last trial to be conducted by a jury was held at the Calcutta High Court in the year 1973. This case has been discussed in detail below.
The ‘Real’ Last Jury Trial in India
This case about the last jury trial in India is not so talked about and for which very few people know about this case. This incident took place in Kolkata, West Bengal during the election periods where two communist activists namely ‘Prakhar Chandra De’ and ‘Rabindranath Chandra De’ were charged with the murder of Dipak Sarkar in 1967. The year of 1967 was a very dangerous year as people were very aggrieved due to the rising prices and food shortages. Bandhs, Hartals, etc, became a common phenomenon.
The General Elections of 1967 marked the fourth election after independence and in the State of West Bengal, there was huge competition and violence between two major parties, the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). As the election results were announced, it was seen that the CPI(M) had won the elections thereby ending the long rule of the Indian National Congress Party.
There were huge celebrations across the streets and suddenly a few celebrants attacked a Congress club named ‘Taruner Ahoban’ which caused a little damage. Three days later, the victim Dipak Sarkar, was attacked by five people including the two accused. He was stabbed several times when he was coming out of a salon. He later died in the hospital.
Prakash and Rabindranath went into hiding and were not caught until October. A trial by jury was held sometime after where all the five people were charged with common intent to murder under Sections 302 and 304 of the Indian Penal Code.
Thus, the real last jury trial was conducted in the year 1973 where Prakash and Rabindranath were retried at the Calcutta High Court Sessions. A special jury was formed comprising of only ‘highly qualified persons’. Both the defendants were charged with murder, acid attacks, agitating riots and many more. A record of forty-four witnesses was heard including five eyewitnesses. However, the jury was of the opinion that the defendants were not guilty by reaching a unanimous verdict. Respecting the jury, the judge complied with the decision of the jury and freed them.
This is the reason why this case is not known vastly and very few sources still have some amount of information in this case. The Nanavati case which was held thirteen years earlier grabbed all the media attention thereby making the people know that the case was the last case to be heard by a jury ever. But after such a decision of the jury in Prakash and Rabindranath’s case, marked the official end of the jury system in India.
The Gradual Decline of the Jury System
The main reasons which led to the decline of the jury system in India and in the world is Biasness and partiality. In such cases, the jury tends to make a verdict in favour of a certain party irrespective of the relevancy of facts and evidence provided to them. These things may happen due to the biases of the majority of the jury, the emotional correlation between the jury and the facts of a case, threat or bribe by either of the parties forcing the members to give the decision in their favour or due to media and political pressure. These factors have been explained as follows :
- Biasness of the Jury
This has been a common phenomenon during the jury trials where the majority of the jury members were found to be biased towards one party. In India, during the British Raj, such an incident was evident enough. The members of the jury, being British Nationals, tended to be in favour of the British Parties which led to partial decisions being made. As a result of which, proper justice was ignored and the party with enough source and favourability was found to be in an advantageous position than the other.
- Emotional Attachment
This was also a common case in jury trials where some of the members would correlate their incidents in life with the facts of a case and for which the decisions were not accurate, which in turn hindered the smooth performance of the justice system.
- Threat or Bribe by Parties
Threatening the jury members or bribing them was often seen especially in criminal cases, where the party having better power, either monetary or political, would often threaten the jury to give decisions in their favour. The juries are just a group of people called upon by the Courts to give a verdict based on the law provided to them. Not having the equivalent protection by the government as was in the case of Judges, the juries were an easier target to exert undue influence upon. This also became an obstacle in the performance of the Justice System.
- External Pressures
Pressures like media or political often influence the jury to give a partial decision. This can be best explained with the help of the Nanavati case. In that case, as we have read, the media and the general public all were in support of the accused, as according to them, the action which he committed was justified. The jury also found no breach of law in the actions of the accused only because of the peer external pressure and that is the reason why the matter was retried in the Bombay High Court by a division bench. Such also marked the ‘official end of the Jury system in India.
Apart from India, jury trials are on a consistent dip in the United States, where almost every criminal and civil matter is heard by a jury. Unlike India, the jury is an important part of the US legal system. However, as per recent statistics, only around two percent of civil and criminal cases that are not dismissed are decided by a jury. This implies that the jury, in the present day, does not get included in the major affairs as once it did. This is also due to another factor which included the longevity and costliness of the jury trials. Cases heard by judge or division benches are tend to be faster and more cost-effective as compared to jury trials. Also modern concepts like Arbitration, Mediation, Conciliation have also contributed to the decline of jury system not only in India but around the world.
Before the Jury trial system came into existence, all the legal disputes were resolved through the Panchayati Raj system in India. In such a system, there were elected people named as ‘Panchayats’ and were vested with the executive and judicial powers. However, when the British came to India, the highly looked down upon the Panchayati Raj system and imposed their own English Law System. In those days, Jury was a major part of the English legal system and for which, India also had such a system but not until 1973.
The jury system was often biased, favoured towards the British, thereby depriving the Indians of their right to get justice. The Nanavati case marked the official last jury trial in India, which was of course, after the British left India. In modern times, Jury trials across the world have declined considerably because of the more disadvantages that it got than the advantages. The modern legal remedies that have been established also significantly contribute to such decline of the jury system. Hence, after around 30 years of post-independence, India was able to successfully replace the jury system with the new Criminal Procedure Code of 1973.
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