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Highlight: The need for victim support services in India's Criminal Justice System

April 15, 2016

Enacting a law is often insufficient to ensure justice. That was the message delivered by women's rights lawyer Flavia Agnes from Majlis Legal Centre, Mumbai during a lecture at IDRC's Asia Regional Office on Wednesday, February 18, 2015. Her talk was part of the office's distinguished lecture series. Agnes is a co-founder of Majilis, a forum for women's rights discourse and legal initiatives that provides quality legal services to women and children.

Agnes spoke about the concerns and challenges faced by victims within the Indian criminal justice system. Over the years, Majlis has been working on sexual assault of women and girls with the state machinery (courts, police, lawyers and jurists) and within the criminal justice system. Drawing from their body of work, Agnes reiterated that justice for victims depends largely on the lawyer's ability as well as sensitivity on part of the judicial system. She gave examples of many cases from start to the end and the hurdles encountered by victims at every stage.

Addressing the challenges of working with the police, she gave instances of the reluctance of police to file first information reports (FIRs), often using excuses of jurisdiction, particularly for the sexual assault of minors. This opens questions of custody when the sole custodian of the child is the abuser and the questions of shelter for children, among others. These result in delays in justice. There was an emerging need of clear guidelines on the role of police within the criminal justice system.

Encouraging police action and redress

To provide clear guidelines to the police regarding the procedure for recording FIRs and for investigating sexual offences, Majlis drafted a simple two page circular, submitted it to the Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order), and lobbied for its adoption. The Commissioner of Police (Mumbai City and Suburbs) issued it as a directive to all 92 police stations. This circular is the first of its kind in the State of Maharashtra, India. To complement the circular, Majlis has provided training to more than 600 police officers.

Agnes emphasized the need to establish District Compensatory Boards that have efficient victim compensation mechanisms for all kinds of violence against women. There should also be District Trauma Teams with members drawn from police, hospitals, the judiciary, and non-governmental organizations to ensure timely support for the victim, she said. Lastly, she called for the implementation of the Manodhairya Scheme in every district of the country. This scheme, intended for victims of acid attacks, child abuse and rape in Maharashtra, provides for financial support, legal aid, medical help, counselling, and vocational training, if required.

Learn more about the Majlis Legal Centre

Read about IDRC's work to end violence against women