Day-to-day trials have immense benefits
The practice of conducting trials on a day-to-day basis, particularly in important or sensitive cases, as was the tradition about 50 years ago, has been given a go-bye. It is high time that the courts revert to that practice. To understand this, we need to understand the current social, political and administrative scenario including the way the police are functioning.india Updated: May 29, 2006 00:14 IST
The practice of conducting trials on a day-to-day basis, particularly in important or sensitive cases, as was the tradition about 50 years ago, has been given a go-bye. It is high time that the courts revert to that practice. To understand this, we need to understand the current social, political and administrative scenario including the way the police are functioning.
The police system has apparently, failed to achieve both its primary goals i.e. control of crime and the protection of individual rights. Incidents of crime are increasing in a big way. People commit serious offences with impunity. Inefficacy of the State machinery in some parts of the country give an impression that Rule of Law is non-existent and the police system has failed. The recent incident of beating up of young girls and boys by the police in a park in a UP town has brought no credit to the image of the police. There is an urgent need for change in the image of the police to that of a people-friendly institution. It must become the ‘police service’ from the ‘police force’.
The leadership of the police has probably failed to provide the conducive work culture to the police force. The poor working conditions of the police especially at the lower level have been instrumental in demoralising and demotivating the police force and has also induced a sense of alienation from the whole system. The salary and perks paid to them is not commensurate with the work expected of them. Unless the working conditions of the police force are improved, it may not be possible to inculcate a sense of belongingness to the system. An attempt to bring a systematic improvement in the system is an urgent need.
It is high time that the police are trained to the latest technology and scientific methods of investigation. It would avoid prolonged investigation, which often leads to corruption. The forensic science laboratories should be well equipped and the government should ensure that a competent and sufficient manpower is employed in the same. It is also the need of the hour that the investigation can be concluded expeditiously and in a scientific manner. This will also reduce the allegations of corruption and faulty investigations. Besides, the role of a forensic scientist must be given its due place. He should be treated as an important person assisting the investigation. He is a facilitator and the investigation agency must treat him as such.
Prosecution is a very important component of the criminal justice delivery system. The quality of prosecution and capability of the prosecutor has great impact on the outcome of a criminal trial. The prosecutor is expected to marshal the facts and place the evidence before the court in a competent and a systematic manner so as to recreate the scene of crime before the court with a view to fix the identity and culpability of the offender.
It is a pity that importance of prosecuting agency in the system has not been adequately realised. There has not been any sincere effort on the part of the state to introduce any systematic reforms in order to strengthen and streamline the prosecution wing. It has ignored the fact that prosecution is the Achilles heel of the criminal justice system.
It needs to be appreciated that a prosecutor's job is very important. If the prosecutor fails to place the evidence before the court in correct perspective, there is always the possibility of a culprit going scot-free with a benefit of doubt. This strikes at the very root of the system itself. The time has come to have a relook at the role of the prosecutor. The state should consider bringing suitable amendments in law to introduce accountability of the prosecution for the failure of trial.
Competence and capability of the prosecutor is the life-blood of a criminal trial. There is need for continuous training and reorientation courses for the prosecutor to improve their professional skill. For efficient performance, the prosecutors do require logistical support like access to the latest technological tools like computers and a well-equipped library. It is also essential that they be given manageable number of cases to handle so that they are able to prepare the brief thoroughly and conduct the trial effectively. Their working conditions need to be improved with proper pay packets so that best of talent can be attracted. Selection of the prosecutors must be based on their merit, integrity and reputation and not on party affiliations because they are required to represent the mighty state and not a political party.
Appointing right and competent advocates, as prosecutors would improve the criminal justice delivery system. The prosecutors must ensure that witnesses are not harassed by being called to the court again and again. They should be examined on the date fixed for recording their statements. So far as medical witnesses and police witnesses are concerned, respect for their time should not be overlooked.
In the criminal justice delivery system, the courts have the most important role to play. The system is being criticised for slow motion justice, too technical rules and over flowing of the dockets besides leniency in awarding punishment in many cases. The courts cannot avoid the responsibility of being one of the actors responsible for the same. The lack of commitment to their jobs as also disposal of cases in a mechanical manner, without proper application of mind by the courts, has contributed towards the failure of the criminal justice delivery system.
The primary function of the court is to conduct the trial in a free and fair manner. The main crisis being faced by the criminal justice system stems from intimidation or allurement of the victims or witnesses during the trial leading to inevitable consequence of collapse of the trial. An important responsibility rests on the judge to ensure that the witnesses depose without any fear, force or pressure in the court.
Unfortunately, judges with a view to protect the image of impartiality have a tendency to avoid taking active part in the trial. This reduces a criminal trial into battle of wits between prosecutor and the defence counsel. Court trials are reduced into mind games like chess, with judge assuming the duty of only an umpire or referee. As a result, the focus is shifted from justice-quest for truth to advocacy skills. There is an urgent need for a paradigm shift from adjudication to quest for justice. This can be achieved only if the judges take active part in the trial to ensure that course of the trial is directed towards the ends of justice.
They cannot sit as silent spectators. They must control the recording of evidence and ensure that the witnesses are not unduly harassed. The tendency to consider themselves only as umpires and not their responsibility to quest for truth must be avoided. Too liberal a recourse to 'benefit of doubt" to take to the easy course of deciding cases is a poor reflection on the working of the system.
To be continued
(The writer is Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission.)