Alarming shortage of public prosecutors

Law court balance gavel

A serious shortage of public prosecutors in Karnataka is standing in the way of timely delivery of criminal justice in the state. The figures speak for themselves. Of a sanctioned strength of 721 public prosecutors, 40% of the posts are lying vacant in Karnataka. Most of the vacancies are at the level of assistant public prosecutors. This shortage of public prosecutors has resulted in a large number of pending criminal cases. Around 8,10,730 criminal cases are reported to be pending in Karnataka’s trial courts of which 61,867 cases are over five years old and 10,650 cases are pending for 10 years or more. For justice to be truly meaningful, it needs to be delivered swiftly. The large number of pending cases indicates that this is not happening in Karnataka. As a result of the shortage of prosecutors, a single public prosecutor is attached to more than one court. Expecting one public prosecutor to meet the needs of so many courts puts her under severe stress, undermining her capacity to discharge her duties effectively and efficiently.

The power to appoint public prosecutors lies with the state government. The Karnataka High Court has repeatedly rapped successive governments on the knuckles for failing to fill up vacant public prosecutor posts. However, its directives appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Successive governments blame the shortage of public prosecutors on the lack of trained prosecutors. This is an untenable excuse. What is stopping the government from providing aspiring prosecutors with training? Equally worrying is the shortage of prosecutors in Karnataka’s Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs). There are 30 JJBs in the state with just 3-4 public prosecutors attached to them. Child rights activists have been drawing attention to the fact that the functioning of JJBs is crippled not just by the shortage of public prosecutors but also, by the lack of training of the few available ones. They are not familiar with the Juvenile Justice Act.

Timely delivery of justice is important. In its absence, citizens get impatient. Public confidence in the judiciary decreases. It paves the way for vigilante justice, which is dangerous as this signals the breakdown of law and order as well as the country’s criminal justice system. It weakens our democracy. It is not just posts of public prosecutors that are lying vacant. There is a worrying shortage of judges, lawyers and judicial officials at every level of the judiciary. According to the Law Ministry, India’s judge population ratio is 19 judges for every million people. This is the lowest among the world’s major democracies. It is time the Karnataka government acted to fill vacant posts.

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