Intra-conflict Of Fundamental Rights Under Article 21 Of The Constitution Of India
Author: Neelakshi Bhaskar
Designation: Student, Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies
Fundamental Rights are guaranteed in Part III of the Constitution of India. Fundamental Rights are important because they protect the rights and liberties of the citizens. But unlimited freedom is a threat to society that is why reasonable restrictions on Fundamental Rights are given in Clauses (2)-(6) of Article 19. The Hon'ble courts in India and more particularly the Supreme Court of India deals with the uncountable matter related to constitutional importance under Article 32 of the Constitution of India and on various other occasions. Intra-conflict of fundamental rights is the issue in which two rights under the same Article conflict.
In the Present criminal appeal of P. Gopalkrishnan v. the State of Kerala, (2020) 9 SCC 16, in which the Hon’ble Supreme Court dealt with a rape matter. There arose many questions in the criminal appeal, such as admissibility of electronic evidence under Section 65-B of the Evidence Act, 1872, Supply to the accused of copy of police report and documents and right of accused to obtain documents in terms of Sections 207 and 173 Cr. P. C, but I am going to analyse one issue pertaining to fundamental rights i.e., intra-conflict of fundamental rights flowing from Article 21, that is, right to a fair trial of the accused and right to privacy of the victim.
IMPORTANCE OF FAIR TRIAL AND RIGHT TO PRIVACY
Under Article 21 an accused has a right to a fair trial and a right to be considered as innocent under proven guilty. In the case of Zahira Habibullah H. Sheikh and Another v. State of Gujarat and Others (2004) 4 SCC 158, the Supremes has defined fair trial as a trial before an impartial Judge, a fair prosecutor, and an atmosphere of judicial calm. The Supreme Court further clarified that denial to a fair trial is an injustice to the accused, the victim, and the society.
In the case of K.S. Puttaswamy and Another v. Union of India and Others (2017) 10 SCC 1, it was held by the Supreme Court that the Right to privacy is a basic fundamental right and it forms an intrinsic part of Art. 21 and freedoms guaranteed in part III of the Constitution of India.
In the present case, the right to fair trial and right to privacy, both enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India conflict. Here, the court held that the furnishing of documents to the accused under Section 207 Cr. P.C is a facet of the right to the accused to a fair trial enshrined in Art. 21 of the Constitution. On the other hand, handing over the copies of crucial and sensitive electronic records i.e., memory cards, Documents recorded by the police officer u/s 173 of Cr. P.C or statements of the victim would be an infringement to the right of privacy of the victim.
ANALYSIS OF FACTS AND CIRCUMSTANCES
The court was of the view that putting watermarks on the cloned copies of the real evidence and taking other measures would not be sufficient as it would be quite difficult to keep the track of cloned copies and to prevent them from misuse. But it is important to share these copies for a fair trial. It is not possible for both the prosecution and defence to prepare themselves for further arguments if they are not well versed with the evidence in hand. Because that may lead to ambiguousness at both ends. The Supreme Court on various occasions has made it clear that the right to a fair trial cannot be denied in any situation. Thus, it is clear that the right to fair trial and right to privacy under Art. 21 are supremely important but are not equally important in a trial. In a criminal trial, and especially in rape cases the evidence is mostly related to the forensic reports, videos, sensitive medical reports, and statements of the victim and the accused whether recorded physically or behind the cameras. And the court cannot just rely on circumstantial evidence for concluding, that is why the court has to go through the list of evidence mentioned above to pronounce an unbiased judgment. The content of the evidence whether electronic or not is very sensitive to the victim and the accused, especially to the victim because that is a matter of privacy of the victim. To deal with a matter like this, the court cannot provide equal relief for the infringement of both the fundamental rights, the courts have to take into account the facts and circumstances at hand. Here court not giving equal effect to both the fundamental rights does not account for compromise because without a fair trial, no question of privacy would arise but on the other hand, if the court in the present case protects the privacy of the victim then it would ultimately compromise the fair trial and hence compromise the essence of justice.
Further, the court stated "The right to a fair trial is not singularly absolute, as is perceived, from the perspective of the accused. It takes in its ambit and sweeps the right of the victim(s) and the society at large. These factors would collectively allude and constitute the Rule of Law i.e., free and fair trial.” The court held that balancing the two fundamental rights is important or inter-fundamental rights, and principles applied in intra-conflict of a same fundamental right are different. No fundamental right is absolute and has certain restrictions. Therefore, the judgment served the purpose of the main issues in question.
In the case of Asha Ranjan v. State of Bihar and Others (2017) 4 SCC 397, the court said that in case of intra-conflict between same fundamental right, courts in certain circumstances must balance rights giving primacy to the interest of society at large, when it would promote Rule of law. And there is no straitjacket formula for concluding.
There are no such principles of privacy but following are the principles of a fair trial:
Presumption of innocence;
Independent, impartial and competent judge;
Hearing should be in open court;
Knowledge of accusation and adequate opportunity;
Trial in presence of accused;
Evidence to be taken in presence of accused;
Cross-examination of prosecution witnesses;
Prohibition of double jeopardy;
Intra-conflict between the same article or inter conflict between two or more articles of the constitution can be resolved in a particular case depending on what the case is about and how it should be dealt with. As stated in the case of Asha Ranjan that there is no straitjacket formula to deal with such matters. Article 254 of the constitution provides that when legislation made by parliament and the state legislature conflicts then the legislation made by the parliament should prevail, but here we cannot say if two rights under Art. 21 conflict this or this right should be given preference because the constitution itself provides that the procedure laid down under criminal laws should be just and fair.