Katju to spearhead ‘Court of Last Resort’

Mumbai, April 4 (IANS) After seeking pardon for actor Sanjay Dutt and Zaibunissa Kazi, found guilty in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case, retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju is set to launch an NGO to offer justice to poor and helpless people.

The NGO, “The Court of Last Resort” will be headquartered in New Delhi, and have branches in the states. It will be inaugurated formally April 15, at a function in the capital at Katju’s home.

“It has been felt for quite some time that injustice is being done to a large number of people who have been languishing in jail either as undertrials whose cases have not been heard for several years, or who have unjustly remained incarcerated because the police have fabricated evidence against them, or for want of proper legal assistance or who have had to spend many years in jail and (were) ultimately found innocent by the court,” Justice Katju explained, on his blog.

The NGO will use Right to Information (RTI) and other means to obtain details of undertrials and convicts incarcerated in jails. Depending on the legal resources necessary, the NGO would then intervene and seek bail for those languishing wrongly in jails, or facing delayed trial.

In cases deserving of pardon, the NGO will seek suspension or reduction of sentences for the concerned undertrials by knocking on the doors of the president or respective state governors.

During his visit to Mumbai two days ago, Justice Katju held meetings with top criminal lawyer Majeed Memon, activist-filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, and social crusaders to give shape to the NGO, based on Erle Stanley Gardner’s famous “The Court of Last Resort”, a popular TV series of the 1950s in the US that dealt with cases of miscarriages of justice of helpless undertrials in US prisons in the 1940s.

Lawyer Memon, who has fought several cases of accused in the 1993 blasts and other similar cases, said that Katju would be the chief patron and noted counsel Fali S. Nariman would be chairman of the NGO.

The two vice-presidents will be Memon and Bhatt.

In his blog on the issue, Katju recalled the case of a 17-year-old Ami who spent 14 years in jail before being declared innocent and released at age 31.

“Many such persons in jail belong to minorities who have been accused only on suspicion and on pre-conceived notions that all persons of that community are terrorists,” Katju said, adding that under pressure to solve cases, the police often fabricated evidence against Muslim youths in terror cases.

“All this is triggering new cycles of hate and revenge. Despair turns citizens into perpetrators (of crime), from the hunted to the hunter. Young men who have spent long years in jail cannot find jobs or houses to rent even when acquitted, their families are ostracized, and sisters find themselves unmarriageable because their brothers have been branded as terrorists,” he said.

“Unless this cycle of hate is now reversed, we are heading for terrible times, for injustice breeds hatred and violence,” Katju noted.

“The result of all this is that in our country gross injustice is often done, particularly to minorities, and the time has now come when this great wrong must be set right. Our country is a country of great diversity and therefore no community must be made to feel that it is being selectively victimised,” Katju said on his blog.

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