IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

The disintegration of the criminal justice system

7th October, 2020 Editorial

Context: A well-established textbook on the principles of criminal law in the United Kingdom painstakingly establishes various theoretical bases for justifying what should be a crime — that it should involve some harm, must carry a certain degree of seriousness, and so on.

In India, majority government makes the laws and controls the investigative machinery, which means that not only does it define what a crime is but it can also selectively pursue only those crimes which it cares about and forget about the rest.

In disarray across India

  • The idea of “crime” is hollow without the accompanying punishment.
  • There is a synergy between the crimes, its pursuit by an investigation, and the calling to account of those found guilty, which is colloquially referred to as a criminal justice system.

India, it is in a shambles

  • The morbid happenings in the State of Uttar Pradesh are example of how bad things can get.
  • Extremes in Uttar Pradesh: Vikas Dubey encounter death demonstrated a willingness to punish without condemning an accused through trial, Uttar Pradesh has also demonstrated a willingness to condemn without any trial.
  • In this fashion, the police became judge, jury, and executioner.

Govt.-judiciary disconnect

  • First, the growing disconnect between the government and judiciary in matters of criminal justice;
  • Second, the bolstering of executive power as a result of this growing disconnect, and third, the unsurprising imitation of executive-mindedness by the judiciary.
  • The result of this, is a transformation from a criminal justice system, to a problem-solving system.

Present Situation

  • The Crime in India data for 2019 confirm a trend that has been on display for decades now: our police are seemingly super-efficient, but our courts are super-slow.
  • For ex. in Uttar Pradesh, police have a pendency rate for cases at just above 15%, but the courts have pendency rates just above 90% (for IPC crimes).
  • The natural time-gap between the incident and any potential punishment reduces the importance of courts in the criminal justice system.

How does a system fill this gap between incident and eventual judgment?

  • By slowly legitimizing the idea of punishments without condemnation or any kind of being called into account. All that matters, is solving the problem, and moving on.
  • This system where judges lose sway is where the executive gains more power.
  • The executive tries to legally bolster powers of pre-trial arrest and custody, while also arrogating to itself more powers to punish without condemnation — asset forfeiture being a key power.

Presumption of innocence

  • The transformation stands complete, when judges try to regain some of their lost footing by trying to imitate the now popular branch.
  • This is the systematic disintegration of any criminal justice system worth its name across India, and its gradual replacement with a problem-solving system where initial accusations and their handling by the executive branch becomes most critical and values such as the presumption of innocence and establishing truth through trials have long ceased to exist.