Reporter's Diary: Justice S Muralidhar's lecture on Criminal Law

Bar & Bench October 7 2018
Justice Muralidhar

Reporter’s Diary is a series that brings you interesting snippets from court hearings across the country. It attempts to offer our readers a glimpse into interactions between judges and lawyers, and the observations made in cases of importance.

Justice S Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court recently delivered the inaugural lecture on Criminal Law, organised by the National Law University, Delhi’s Project 39A at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi.

Here are some interesting snippets from the lecture:

The Perils of Translation

In courts, certain key words and expressions are translated from Hindi to English.  Very often, the inability to translate the expressions and the facts exactly, result in unintentional injustice. The phrase “Galat Kaam” (literally, "bad work"), for example, is used to describe rape situations, when the victim is a child, and her testimony is crucial to secure a conviction of the accused under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act).

As the child victim is unable to distinguish different kinds of sexual assault, the investigators, keeping the sensitivities of interrogating a minor, ask a general question, whether the accused did any “galat kaam” to her.  Unable to distinguish an offence under the Act from a non-offence, her reply to the question may not exactly convey what had happened to her.   This, according to Dr. Justice S Muralidhar, has caught the courts in a quandary many a time, resulting in frequent acquittals of the accused under the Act.

Justice Muralidhar also narrated another anecdote involving the perils of translation. An accused was asked by the prosecution during cross-examination, "Tumne Mara hai?" The accused replied with an exclamatory expression on his face, “Maine mara hai?!” to deny that he killed the deceased. As the translation could not convey his body language and the expression he used to respond to the question, the result could be that he confessed to the crime. Justice Muralidhar explained that silences in the testimonies have profound meaning, and a translator must be trained to capture them.

Kannabiran & his relevance

KG Kannabiran (Image Courtesy: Outlook)

KG Kannabiran, India’s foremost champion of civil liberties and human rights and President of People’s Union for Civil Liberties for over two decades, passed away at the age of 81 on December 30, 2010.  A video interview of Kannabiran was used during Justice Muralidhar’s lecture, where he was discussing the importance of lawyers defending even those persons who do not believe in the Constitution.

In the clip which was shown on the screen, Kannabiran tells the interviewer that he was once asked by a judge why he, as an advocate, seeks to defend those who believe in overthrowing the Indian Constitution, on the basis of rights guaranteed by the same Constitution. Kannabiran replied to the judge thus:

“In these cases, it is not the accused who is on trial, but the Constitution itself is on trial, as it cannot deny justice to a person who does not believe in it. Notwithstanding their values, the accused are entitled to protection under the Constitution."

Kannabiran’s reply was greeted with spontaneous applause in the hall.

The relevance of Kannabiran’s reply in these troubled times, when activist advocates have been arrested on the ground that they represented suspected Maoists in some cases, could not be missed by the audience.