‘It is high time’: Supreme Court calls for a code of investigation for cops
A 2012 report of the Law Commission observed that the principal causes of low rate of conviction in our country include unscientific investigation by police.
Disappointed with the falling standards of police investigations and low rate of conviction in criminal cases, the Supreme Court has advocated for a “code of investigation” to ascertain that the guilty do not walk free, ruing that “they do in most cases in our country”.
“We may note with deep and profound concern the disappointing standards of police investigation that seem to be the invariable norm...It is high time, perhaps, that a consistent and dependable code of investigation is devised with a mandatory and detailed procedure for the police to implement and abide by during the course of their investigation so that the guilty do not walk free on technicalities, as they do in most cases in our country,” said a bench, comprising justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, JB Pardiwala and Sanjay Kumar .
The top court cited the concerns raised in a 2003 report by the justice VS Malimath-led committee on reforms of the criminal justice system, stating that the standard of police investigation in India remains poor and that there is considerable room for improvement. Similarly, a 2012 report of the Law Commission of India observed that the principal causes of low rate of conviction in our country, inter alia, include inept, unscientific investigation by the police and lack of proper coordination between police and prosecution machinery.
“Despite the passage of considerable time since these gloomy insights, we are dismayed to say that they remain sadly true even to this day,” said the bench, as it acquitted three men in a murder case giving them benefit of doubt. Two of these men were on death row while the third one was a life term convict in a 2013 case of murder for ransom in Madhya Pradesh. They were represented by senior advocate Sidharth Luthra.
The court pointed out that the prosecution’s case was based on circumstantial evidence which had “cavernous gaps” and discrepancies that demolish its version of how the events unfolded. The gaping holes and weak links in the chain of evidence, the bench noted, were results of attempts by the police to tailor their investigation, showing complete indifference to procedure, leaving important leads unchecked while glossing over others. It cited procedural lapses in recording confession statements and recovery of incriminating materials, besides unsubstantiated testimonies and medical evidence to castigate police of a slipshod probe.
“Oftentimes, courts find that reckless overzealousness and unbridled fervour coupled with scant regard for due procedures and practices on the part of the police, in picking upon those whom they perceive to be the guilty party and then building up a case against them, accomplishes the direct opposite of what they seek to achieve, by exposing gaping holes and weak links in the chain of evidence that they ultimately offer, as is the situation now,” noted the bench, setting aside the orders of the subordinate courts.
Regretting that a young boy of 15 years was cruelly done to death and the wrongdoers necessarily had to be brought to book for the injustice done to him and his family, the bench said that the shoddy investigation by the police left it with no option but to extend the benefit of doubt to the appellants.
According to the latest statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau on 2021 crimes, the conviction rate in cases of murder stood at just 42.4%. It meant that in over 57% of such cases, either the prosecution could not adduce enough evidence to prove the accused’s guilt in courts or the wrong people were arrested.
Similarly, the conviction rate was just 39.6% in cases of culpable homicide not amounting to murder; 36.1% for attempt to murder; 39.9% for voluntarily causing grievous hurt; 22.4% in cases of kidnapping and abduction and 16.2% for voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons.
It was a low 30.8% in acid attack cases; 36.6% in sexual harassment cases; and 31.5% in cases of wrongful restraint, confinement, and assault on women with intent to outrage modesty.
The new bills, introduced by the central government last month to replace the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act, seek to bring changes in police probes with the aid of technology.
According to the bill to replace CrPC, technology will be used by the police to conduct search and seizure operations, and the entire process of search by the police or seizure of any property shall be videographed through electronic devices. Such recordings shall be sent by the police to magistrates without any delay. Video-recording of the statement of sexual assault victims have been made mandatory under the proposed law. Similarly, the issuance of summons and warrants have been allowed electronically to speed up the process, the bill added.
The bill to replace the Evidence Act has proposed that the documents will also include electronic or digital records, e-mails, server logs, computers, smart phones, laptops, SMS, websites, locational evidence, mails, messages on devices. It adds that ‘evidence’ includes any information given electronically, which would permit the appearance of witnesses, accused, experts and victims through electronic means.
The bills are currently pending scrutiny before a parliamentary panel.