Victim Justice: Tracing the Need for Reforms Across Time by Karandeep Singh

“Indeed, history is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes.” – Voltaire

Victimology has been defined as the scientific study of the victims of crime, victim of human rights violation, of victimization and the reactions to both crime and human rights violations. In one dimension the basic theme of victimology is study of the reactions of the victim and on the other hand we focus on the reactions on the social environment of the victims. In another dimension, victimology reflects reaction and counter reactions and sometimes relationships between both reactions. This reaction can be classified into informal and formal reaction. Formal reactions are described and prescribed by written rules and norms of the legislative organ of the society. Victims themselves react in informal ways towards victimization and the social environment has formal ways of reaction. The criminal justice system is one form of formal reaction towards victimization and towards victims.
Therefore, the simple question what is victimology is quiet difficult to answer. During about last three decades or more the debate was continuing and many thinkers have contributed towards development of victim justice and victimology in the present time. They come from different academic or professional backgrounds – from sociology or from law, from psychiatry or from psychology, from social work and from management. All have different opinions and convictions in their understanding of victimology. Let us look into different perspectives of victim, victim justice and victimology.


Victimisation is not an uncommon phenomenon in the society. It can occur at various stages. As opined by various victimologists, it can result due to any contribution by the victim themselves or a person can be subject to some sort of victimization without being liable for any contribution by him/her. One can also become victimized for the second time while addressing and seeking redress for his/ her victimization from the criminal justice system. Or at times one may even become victimized for being a part of a society or community. In order to do the same the victims in many cases are under recognized or ignored as crimes are initially considered as offences mainly against the State.

In early civilisation, the responsibility of protecting oneself against crime and of punishing the offenders rested with the individuals, which reflected the idea ofretributive justice. As the societies got organized in the form of states, the responsibility of protecting the members against criminal and punishing the violators of criminal codes shifted to the political authority. The remedies however continued to be based by and large on the restitutive justice, which required compensation, by the wrong doer to the victim or his family members. This was the position obtaining in the Old Germanic Law, Code of Hammurabi, Law of Moses and other ancient systems. Later, the same ideas of restitution, along with the elements of retribution, were followed in the Islamic legal system.


The next stage as reflected in the contemporary world was reached at the end of the medieval age with the idea of crime as an act against the state taking firm roots along with the vesting of more powers in the political authority. Even if theoretically not unsound as such, in practice it gave rise to the unfortunate situation, already alluded to, in which the victim of the crime, became an irrelevant factor in the administration of justice; the state being merely concerned with the punishment and to a lesser extent, reformation and rehabilitation of the offender.


The concept of the restitutive justice was sought to be revised in the 19th century by some eminent criminologists like Garofalo and Ferri in Italy and Bentham in England. Though Sweden introduced a system in which victims were paid compensation out of the fine imposed on the offender. Some concrete progress was made in Europe, the United States and some other countries in late nineteenth century. The Geneva Congress (1896), Amsterdam Congress (1901), Christinia Congress and Turing Congress (1906) were more attentive for indemnification of the victims of crime.


Thus it can be said in western countries, during 19th century, most legislative activity has occurred in the states, providing victim services, changing the criminal process, emphasizing special groups, establishing victim rights, and dealing more harshly with offenders. They were having greater say in trial and formulating sentence. They enjoyed numerous protection and rights till emergence of states as welfare states where in victim slowly eloped from the criminal justice system.


The 1985 Declaration of the United Nations on the Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, directs its member States to incorporate four categories of rights for the victims in the justice delivery system of the respective state. They are:

  1. 1. Right to Access to Justice and Fair Treatment
  2. 2. Right to Restitution of property
  3. 3. Right to Compensation
  4. 4. Right to Necessary Material, Medical, Psychological and Social Assistance.


So, it can be said that apart from harnessing the area of compensatory jurisprudence the other modes of rendering victim justice should be equally strengthened and developed by the initiative and enterprising endeavor taken by the legislative, judicial as well as the executive wing of the Government. In this context, it is very important to refer to the Report of the Criminal Justice Reform Committee (2003) which expressed its concern for the position of victims.


Prof. (Dr.) N. R. Madhava Menon [1] states that independent of the report of the Committee on Criminal Justice Reforms there have been legislative attempts to provide for different types of financial and other assistance to victims of rape, domestic violence and to child victims of adult crimes. The Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2008 has a provision i.e. Section 357A, under which the State Government in co-ordination with the Central Government is obliged to prepare Victim Compensation Schemes for compensating victims of crimes. He concludes by saying that the rights of the crime victims are at least partially recognized and legislated in India. He mentioned the difference brought by the involvement of the victims in the proceeding of the case. He opined that professional groups like the Indian Society of Criminology, Indian Society of Victimology and the Bar Association should campaign in a united way for the reforms to be adopted so that criminal justice can redeem its credibility and legitimacy in an increasing criminalizing environment.
According to N. R. Madhav Menon procedural rights for victims, compensation scheme for them, etc, is one of the most important among various other reforms adopted for improving criminal justice. [2]

The purpose behind Section 357, Cr. P.C. was discussed by the Supreme Court of India in Hari Krishnan and State of Haryana V .Sukbir Singh. [3] In this judgment the Apex Court made the following observation that the compensation under Section 357 CrPC must be reasonable.

With the growth and development of societies and emergence of concept of welfare state, the psycho-analysis of crime and criminals were emphasized. The reformative concept of punishment served the criminals with a view to shape their mind so as to stop them from committing the offence again.

[1] N. R. Madhav Menon, ‘ Victim Orientation to Criminal Justice: A Felt Need And A Desirable Reform’(2011), address at the 3rd international & 7th Biennial Conference of The Indian Society of Victimology.

[2] N. R. Madhav Menon, “Victim Compensation Law and Criminal justice: A plea for a Victim Orientation in

Criminal justice” in K. I. Vibhute (ed.), Criminal Justice , 362(Eastern Book Co., Lucknow, 2004).

[3] AIR 1988 SC 2127: 1989 Cri LJ 116.

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