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Sunday, December 23, 2012

‘Low conviction rate spurring sexual assault cases in India’

In 2011, Only 25% Men Accused Of Rape Found Guilty

    Sexual assaults on women across the country increased by 25% in the six years to 2011 and a significant contributory cause of the alarming trend, legal experts believe, was the low conviction rate in rape cases. 
    According to data collated by the National Crime Records Bureau, 19,348 instances of rape were recorded in India in 2006. By the year 2008, the figure rose to 21,467, and by the year 2011, it was 24,206. This 25% rise in six years, legal experts assert, assumes more disturbing shades, given the poor conviction rate in sexual assault cases. 
    Last year, across India, the police filed chargesheets in nearly 94% of the incidents of rape but, separately, convictions were achieved in just 25% of the rape cases pending before courts. Compared to this, the police filed chargesheets in 85% of murder cases and convictions were realized in 40% of such trials before the judiciary. 

    This considerable variation puzzles legal eagles. They point out that the filing of a chargesheet means the police have thoroughly investigated a crime; it also signifies that law-enforcers have a prima facie case, with strong evidence, to establish that the accused person committed the offence. Why is it then, lawyers ask, that the police case so often falls apart when the trial starts in court? How are teams of defence lawyers so frequently able to punch holes in police contentions, eventually securing freedom for their clients? 
    "The police must ensure that they file the chargesheet as far as possible within the stipulated time limit of 90 days. Equally importantly, they should ensure that the evidence, gathered scientifically, is incontestable," said human rights lawyer Mihir Desai. 
    In Mumbai, a Right to Informa
tion Act (RTI) query revealed that between 2001 and 2010 there were approximately 400 unsolved murder cases and around 115 unsolved cases of sexual assault. 
    Activist Jeetendra Ghadge, who filed the RTI application, said, "The main problem is that, due to the abysmal conviction rates, there is no fear of law among criminals. A recent example of this was the sexual assault on a Spanish expatriate in the city. The accused there was out on bail for 10 different crimes involving break-ins." 
    When cases are not solved over a prolonged period, Ghadge said, the police can close them by filing 'A' summary reports. But when they make such a decision in a rape case, he continued, cops forget that they are deepening the trauma of the 
victim and leaving multitudes of women exposed to the unidentified sexual assaulter. 
    Women's activist and lawyer Flavia Agnes said her NGO Majlis has undertaken a study of rape cases in Mumbai and will soon compile data on convictions and acquittals. "The aim of the study is to examine actual cases that were tried, identify 
the loopholes in the system and find ways to plug them. This would help the prosecution in conducting better trials in future," explained Agnes. "The data and material gathered so far shows a very low conviction rate in rape cases." 
    In Maharashtra, the overall conviction rate stood at less than 9% in 2011. For this too, legal experts blame the poor coordination between the police machinery and prosecutors. 
    In an effort to bring in some change, the state government set up a committee two years ago. The panel recommended weekly meetings between police officers and prosecutors during investigations and later monthly meetings between senior policemen and prosecutors. The idea, unfortunately for the state, is yet to take root. 


The low conviction rate in rape cases is owed to several reasons, primary among them being police ineptness. Lawyers say the men in khaki often fail to collect evidence properly, enfeebling the prosecution's case in court: 
Forensic evidence is vital in rape trials. That is why rules unambiguously state the procedures for evidence collection and analysis. Police are mandated to follow a process for custody and storage of samples of vaginal swabs, skin and other agents—but they seldom do. This disregard of rules causes trouble for the prosecution and frequently leads to acquittal of the accused 
Police do not get the victim's medical examination conducted in time. The delay leads to flawed results and erasure of cogent evidence, such as presence of semen 
Chargesheets are often filed late despite the 90-day deadline. To curb this trend, lawyers say, errant cops should be suspended and punished if they fail to provide suitable reasons for the delay 
Given the frequent bungling by cops, legal eagles suggest appointment of special prosecutors for rape trials to ensure that the evidence gathered by policemen in such cases is incontestable and incontrovertible 
Trial courts are occasionally faced with a peculiar situation. As the trial gets drawn out due to judicial backlog, the victim's statement at times slightly diverges from that recorded in the FIR or before a magistrate. Lawyers recommend fast
tracking rape trials—even establishment of a 60-day deadline—to avert this setback and to ensure that the victim's trauma is not played out in court for a prolonged period 
A major requirement in cases of sexual assault is sensitivity. Victims have to recount the trauma in court (even in an in-camera trial) for the judge. That is why, experts insist, it is imperative that prosecutors handle the victims with extreme sensitivity


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