Millennium Post

Rising crime and fewer convictions

Too many prosecution cases are being dismissed by the judiciary as prosecutors are increasingly failing to establish charges before the court on a recurring basis. More and more accused are being let off by the higher judiciary. This after their custodial harassment and discomfiture for weeks, months or even years as prosecutors make futile pleas for extension of custody to help move along criminal investigations. 

What happens to the accused that are let off by the judiciary after suffering at the hands of venal, politically motivated police or enforcement agencies? Should not the exonerated person be adequately compensated for the mental agony he or she may have gone through as a result of the politically-prompted harassment by the police and law enforcers?

Justice is not guaranteed merely by the overturning of the conviction of a falsely accused. The wrongful harassment, confinement and media trial of those who are wrongly accused needs to be adequately compensated for both in monetary and legal terms. Untenable and irresponsible prosecution deserves exemplary punishment with exemplary fines and jail terms. 

This may seem like a novel thought, but it really is not. The “honour” and livelihood of the so-called accused, freed of unsustainable charges by the court, deserve to be restored by the judiciary to the fullest extent possible. False accusations and gossip can destroy lives, even if the accused is innocent. 

It may be time to ponder over this matter due to the growing number of cases whether it be related to young second-rung cricketers falsely accused of match fixing to a number of so-called terror and scam accused being let off. The general public is increasingly losing faith in the judiciary and the government. Even the Supreme Court seems to be under the scanner as the intelligentsia and media raise their voice against its judgement. 

The latest controversy over the hanging of Yakub Memon could be cited as an example. Other pertinent examples are of the out on bail Mumbai film star Salman Khan or the rejection of conviction of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha by the Karnataka High Court in an alleged disproportionate asset case. Out of jail following the Karnataka High Court order, Jayalalitha sought and got the public mandate to reinstall herself as the Tamil Nadu chief minister.

The abysmally poor crime conviction rate has been a matter of grave concern. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data showed an almost 40 percent drop in the crime (under the Indian Penal Code) conviction rate between 1972 and 2012 – from 62.7 percent in 1972 to 38.5 percent. In other words, the prosecution failed to establish charges against over 60 per cent of the accused before the court of law. What does this mean? Is it because of gross incompetence and callousness on the part of the police or law enforcers, dishonesty on the part of crime investigators and judges or strong political interference? 

The poor conviction rate may be responsible for increasing rates of crimes of all types – from financial to murder and rape. The latest NCRB report recorded almost 80 per growth in rape cases across the country in a single year, between 2012 and 2013, with Delhi topping the list recording 1,441 rape cases in 2013 as against 585 in 2012. The recorded number of rape cases in India went up from 24,923 in 2012 to 33,707 in 2013. Some 93 women are raped in the country every day. 
Is it anything to do with the falling conviction rate for reasons that only the police and judiciary can explain?

Ironically, the Supreme Court had issued an order to formulate a procedure for taking action against erring investigating and prosecuting officials for acquittals that, if effected, could spell trouble for the entire criminal procedure system. The investing and prosecuting officers in a number of states, including Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra and Telangana, Odisha, J&K and Bihar, could be in deep trouble. Conviction cases in some of the states for murder vary between 19 and 27 percent and for rape from 7.5 to 21.3 percent. The rampant corruption in the police and the lower judiciary is given as one of the key reasons.

It is safe to say that the poor conviction rate is throwing a major spanner in the proper functioning of Indian democracy while going soft on politically sensitive accused and convicts questions the very purpose and authenticity of Indian law. The talks of police and judicial reforms end up in endless debates. As a result, the innocent produced as accused suffer while hardcore criminals, including the rich and famous, often get off the hook for want of strongly admissible facts and evidence. Key witnesses often turn hostile or die unnatural deaths before their judicial hearing.

Unfortunately, it would appear that not many lawmakers, law enforcers, law practitioners and judges are truly concerned about the falling conviction rate, increasing crime rates and the plight of ‘innocent’ accused. IPA
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