Justice system needs immediate remedies: Home secretary

New Delhi, Sep 29 (IANS) Home Secretary R.K. Singh Saturday said the nation's criminal justice system was at the crossroads and called for immediate remedies.

Addressing the 40th anniversary of the Lok Nayak Jaiprakash Narayan National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science here, Singh said there was a disconnect that needs to be addressed before India could deliver justice to its people, the primary duty of a sovereign nation.

"It has been my view for some time now that our criminal justice system is at crossroads and it needs some remedies very quickly," Singh told the gathering of police and judicial officers and forensic scientists.

"The quality of investigation leaves much to be desired. Our prosecution, again, leaves much to be desired," he said.

"We do not have, let alone scientific, professional investigation. We need to professionalise investigation. Scientific investigation is something which we are still aspiring to," he added.

Noting that most police stations did not have equipment to pick up fingerprints, the home secretary said: "Scientific investigation is a far cry. Unless, we take steps to professionalise our criminal investigation, we will not be able to deliver justice."

He said a person is arrested soon after a crime only if the media highlighted it. He added that usually people lose interest or forget about the case and the accused walks free.

"Unless, of course, the people so arrested are so weak and helpless that they cannot afford a good lawyer, which many times is often the case. So we end up by convicting innocent people as well," he said.

With regard to prosecution, Singh said some decades back it got separated from investigation. "But the results have not been very good."

Accountability of officers in investigation and prosecution existed in the 1950s and 1960s because courts began trial immediately after the charge sheet, Singh said.

"If the case resulted in conviction or acquittal, it was a clear commentary on the quality of investigation. If there were numerous acquittals in cases investigated by an officer, then there would be censure or black mark and they would not get promoted. There was accountability," he added.

"I am not talking about corruption. It is there on both sides, investigation and prosecution," he said, in a candid admission.

With regard to actual delivery of justice by courts, the home secretary said that if a person committed a crime at the age of 40, he "will die a free man, until and unless, he is weak or very foolish".

"The delays have to be addressed. But I do not know how to do it," he said.

Referring to the fast-track courts for speedy trial, Singh noted that the system has been dispensed with and the government is not continuing the scheme.

But where would the centre find funds for the incentives?

"For that, we need to find some money. I go the finance ministry and ask for funds and I am told that police is a state subject. We need to find the money somewhere. I will be able to persuade my colleagues in the finance ministry to do that," he said.

Calling forensic labs across the country as "horrendous", Singh said reports from these labs took two to three years to return to the investigating officer, by which time he would have been transferred.

"There are huge vacancies (in labs). Nobody takes interest in the states," he added.

Calling these issues as "disconnects" in the justice delivery system that need to be addressed, Singh said this would happen only if the states looked at justice delivery as its primary responsibility, as it does so with regard to law and order at present.