http://ncrb.nic.in/CD-CII2011/Statistics2011.pdf is a voluminous but interesting document on the statistics of policing in India. At page 362, there is a table on conviction rate in cases sent to court for trial under the Indian Penal Code. The all India average for judgments convicting the accused is 41.1% of all chargesheets filed under IPC, the spread being between 8.2% for Maharashtra and 89.5 for Mizoram, and most states falling in a range of 25-60%. After these initial conviction judgments by the magistrate or sessions courts, many of those found guilty would also appeal against those judgments in higher courts. This means that in most states in India, much less than half of all court trials are resulting in punishing the guilty.
The most obvious responsibility for these poor figures on conviction rates devolves on the police-it looks obvious that only a poor investigation would have led to the acquittal of accused in the court trial. But it would be important to dig deeper. Are there some other factors equally or maybe even more important than the quality of investigation that are affecting the conviction rate? If it is so, are we missing the wood for the trees in generating a solution to this problem through the easier route of more insistence on better investigation?
It would be useful to see the data. In the Bureau of Police R&D’s publication, Data on Police(http://bprd.nic.in/index1.asp?lang=1&linkid=61&lid=345), it is seen that in 2011, there were a total of 89,39,161 Indian Penal Code cases(including pending cases from the previous years) in the trial courts as compared to 85,49,655 during year 2010 showing an increase in pendency of 4.6 percent over the previous year. The cases in which trial is completed is only to the extent of approximately 13% every year. So a large number (approximately 87%) of cases remain pending with the courts in India every year, indicating that trials are lengthy and take on average, 5 to 8 years to complete. According to the data in the 2011 NCRB publication, Crime in India, the duration of trial in 5.7% Indian Penal Code cases is more than 10 years. It is 5 to 10 years for 20.3% cases, between 3 to 5 years for 28.04% cases and between 1 to 3 years for 31.64% cases. So in more than 85% cases, trials go on for more than a year. Since a significant portion of prosecution evidence is based on witness statements, such lengthy trials extending over many years leads to deterioration in the quality of evidence (hostile witnesses i.e. witnesses who do not give accurate account of that event, hostile complainants i.e. complainants who give tardy evidence in courts due to some more pressing current considerations which weigh on them vis-a-vis their original complaint, death of complainant/witnesses/accused) resulting in acquittal of accused due to lack of clear and incontrovertible evidence to prove guilt.
Similarly, the BPR&D data shows that only 70% of the exhibits sent by police for forensic examination undergo the required examinations within one year. The remaining 30% spills over for scientific examination into the next year.
My point is this-1. Better conviction rates will require a more efficient scientific evidence feeder from the Forensic Labs in the country, 2. Better conviction rate will also require faster court trials so that the majority of cases are completed within a period of 1-2 years after chargesheet and 3. Better conviction rate will work as an effective deterrent to crime and criminals and be a preventive strategy leading to a safer society.
The effects of more efficiency in the forensics and trials part of the criminal justice system will also be felt on the quality of police investigation because of the feedback loop that such timely court judgments will establish. Presently, due to the lengthiness of trials, this loop is not very visible.