Report No. 24
8. Justification for our Act.-
In the light of the foregoing discussion1 as to defects and drawbacks of inquiries by Commissions, it becomes pertinent to consider-
(1) Whether the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 should at all be on the Statute Book?
(2) If so, what safeguards should be provided to mitigate the rigour of the Act?
Our answer to the first question is in the affirmative. The Lord Chancellor, Viscount Kilmuir, in his reply to the debate in the House of Lords in the Waters case made a spirited and vigorous defence of the English Act in the following words2:-
"Let me state quite shortly the arguments for some such procedure as the present. The sanction of the public inquiry is necessary on occasions for the purpose of maintaining a high standard of public administration and, indeed, of public life. The modern system has developed in consequence of the inadequacies of the machinery of inquiry by Select Committee on the one hand and the limitations of the ordinary process of law on the other The ordinary processes of law are geared to a charge or claim brought by one person against another.
They do not fit when it is necessary to discover what has actually happened before the responsibility of or between individuals can arise, and, as has been discussed earlier in this debate, there are other fields, such as wreck inquiries, inquiries into accidents, courts of inquiry in the Services and the Committee of Privileges of the House of Commons, where the inquisitorial procedure is a necessary concomitant of their work. In all those cases the question of discovering what has actually happened is of prime importance After the true facts have been found and stated it may be necessary to stigmatise conduct which, although not a criminal offence or a civil wrong, falls short of the requisite standards of our public life.
It may be necessary to kill harmful rumours which are found to be unjustified. It may be necessary-and this I am sure was very much in the minds of the Government who introduced this measure-to restore public confidence in public conduct and administration. These ends may well be of such importance to the life of the nation as to justify means which inflict hardship on individuals."
This seems to be a sufficient justification for an Act like the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952. The arguments set out by the Lord Chancellor in defence of the English Act apply equally to the Indian Act. It is true that in some cases, the Government does not take any action on the report of a Commission of Inquiry. But that does not mean that the inquiry has not been useful. The Commission either exonerates the persons involved in the inquiry or holds them guilty. In either case the inquiry serves a useful purpose. In the first case, the inquiry sets at rest some ugly rumours which led to the appointment of the Commission. In the second case, the guilty persons are exposed to the public eye.
A prosecution is not the only method of punishing persons who pollute the pure springs of public administration. Many persons would prefer to suffer a sentence in secret rather than face the public with their dark deeds. The glaring publicity which attaches to such inquiries is both its strength and its weakness. Such publicity exposes the wrong-doers to the public eye and there lies its strength. Sometimes, however, such publicity results in unmerited mud-slinging on some innocent persons who are denied the safeguards of the ordinary judicial procedure to vindicate themselves and there lies its weakness. But no human system of justice can be perfect. Cases of miscarriage of justice are not unknown in the ordinary courts of law.
1. Para. 7, supra.
2. Parliamentary Debates, Lords, 1958-59, Vol. 216, "The Waters Tribunal", pp. 470-72.
9. As regards the second question,1 we feel that in a matter like this, there should be a just balance between the interests of the general public and the rights of individuals, between the claims of the State and civil liberties. The fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution will have little meaning if they can be trampled upon by a law which, though conforming to the letter of the Constitution, yet violates its spirit. In order that the special procedure envisaged in the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 does not work any hardship on citizens, there should be some safeguards. The great American Judge, Mr. Justice Frankfurter has observed:2
"the history of liberty has largely been the history of procedural safeguards.".
We may again quote from the speech of the Lord Chancellor, Viscount Kilmuir, in the House of Lords in the Debate on the Waters case in which he suggested some safeguards3:-
"Parliament and the Government should be exceedingly chary of using this procedure when another remedy is open, for the inquiry may hopelessly prejudice subsequent proceedings. Yet, again, one has to set against this difficulty the public asset of confidence in the police or the civil" service or the functioning by Government which it may be vital to re-establish. That is the only sort of exception and I think that if noble Lords consider it, they will be inclined to agree The procedure should be invoked only for weighty and important matters, for it is only then that the sacrifice on the part of the individual can be fairly demanded It will help if the Tribunal, when it has to consider complicated matters, bears in mind two points and has two objectives: first, to get cleared what actually happened; secondly, as soon as it appears possible that responsibility may rest on a particular person, to secure that this person should have an opportunity of dealing with any point-I repeat, any point-which may be thought to tell against him."
1. See para. 8, supra.
2. "Government by Investigation" by Alan Barth, Chapter VI, on "Self-incrimination", p. 112.
3. Parliamentary Debates, Lords, Vol. 216, "The Water's Tribunal", pp. 474-475, 477 and 478.