Not the remedy

The Supreme Court’s directive to all governments to set up committees to probe the reasons for acquittal of accused persons in each case that comes to courts for their decision is well-intentioned. It seeks to ensure that justice is done in all cases of violation of laws.  

But the remedy prescribed by the court may not work if the reasons for the failure of justice are not identified correctly and seen in the right perspective. It is true that there is a high rate of acquittal in cases in India. It is usually the failure of the investigating agencies or of the prosecution to present a case supported with sufficient evidence that leads to acquittals. The acquittal could also mean that an innocent person was being prosecuted. Both are wrong.  But when the court calls for action in these cases the  systemic problems that cause such failures would also need examination.

The court has asked for a review of each case of acquittal to determine if it was caused by mistakes or negligence on the part of investigators and accountability fixed for it. Those responsible should face appropriate departmental action if their lapses are proved. The court also wants a procedure to be evolved so that only cases which are strong enough to lead to successful prosecution are taken up. But the reasons for failure of cases are not just negligence or lapses of investigators. These are symptoms of serious problems within the justice system. There is no effective witness protection system in the country. The police all over the country are understaffed and overburdened. Many of them are not properly trained. External interference is another problem.  The Supreme Court had itself some years ago wanted the investigative and law and order wings of the police to be separated so that each could pay full attention to its functions. This should be part of a greater police reform agenda which is yet to be implemented.

It is true that courts have to acquit many accused even when it is convinced of the guilt of those in the dock. Even now when the courts point out lapses in prosecution departmental enquiries are conducted. Ideally this should be done in every case.  But an enabling and facilitating environment should also be created to make it effective and successful. Otherwise it might result in only farcical reviews of failed cases and even reluctance of the police to follow up cases. 

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