Rise in habitual criminals due to low conviction rate

.. by Asif Chaudhry

LAHORE: Shehanshah (name changed) was 18 years old when the Lower Mall police lodged the first theft case against him. He got bail but was again booked by the same police station in another case of keeping an illegal weapon. He obtained bail in this case too.

The same year, 16 more cases were lodged against Shehanshah in different police stations of the provincial capital.

Now he is 31-year old and the number of criminal cases against him were 92 till 2016, but he could not be convicted in any case.

The police record shows that in nine cases he was on bail while in the rest of the cases he was under trial in various courts of Lahore, Narowal (his home town) and some other districts of Punjab.The crime history of the accused says he was accused of snatching 27 cars and eight motorbikes.

Same is the case with six other such criminals who are wanted to police in heinous crimes.

Kala (name changed) of Sherakot, Lahore, faces 91 criminal cases since 2008 and all cases are under trial.

Al-Faisal Town resident Baba (name changed) is wanted in 84 criminal cases by Lahore police. Most of them were registered under Section 392 of Pakistan Penal Code. He has been accused of snatching 42 cars, including vans.

The Lahore police were also in search of Badshah (name changed) of Mianwali who is wanted in 72 cases.

According to the police record, he was infamous for stealing/snatching motorbikes.

According to the FIRs lodged against him, Badshah has stolen/snatched 67 motorbikes in various hits from Lahore.

The record shows there other criminals who are wanted in 87, 77 and 72 cases, respectively, by different police stations of Lahore.

Dawn?s investigation shows that offenders resume criminal activities due to low conviction rate. They fearlessly move on city roads to deprive people of their valuables, including vehicles.

The police record shows the accused in criminal cases either get bail or are declared proclaimed offenders as they believe that the complications in the criminal justice system can?t hold them for a long period in jails — most of them have spent an average one to seven months in jails after arrests.

The police record pertaining to reportable crime in 2016 shows that 37 criminals were wanted in more than 50 cases each, 458 in 20 criminal cases lodged against each of them and 2,610 accused wanted in three or more cases registered against them.

One of the major reasons behind this sorry state of affairs is said to be the low conviction rate for reportable heinous crimes, including robbery, dacoity and theft.

Faulty prosecution is said to be the major issue due to which hardened criminals manage their escape from punishment. Poor crime prevention and detection are other major causes behind high crime rate in the city of nearly 20 million population. The official data shows the number of repeat offenders has increased tremendously in the city.

According to official figures, 9,245 cases of heinous crime were registered in 2016, including house robbery, bank dacoity, mobile phone, jewellery and vehicle snatching in the provincial capital. Of them 5,485 theft cases were registered under sections 381 A and 382 of Pakistan Penal Code, 3,710 cases for robbery (under Section 392 of PPC) and 50 cases of dacoity (under Section 395 of PPC).

Out of these total cases, the challan of 3,399 cases had been submitted to the courts concerned ? 611 for theft cases, 1,885 for robbery and 26 for dacoity. During court proceedings 1,363 accused out of 3, 399 had been acquitted while only 498 were convicted.

Of the 498 convicts, a majority (398) was awarded meagre punishments — from one month to three years ? the police record says. Rest 88 had been awarded punishments from three years to five years and only 12 could get up to seven years in heinous crimes against property.

Retired sessions judge Javaid Rashid Mahboobi highlights various loopholes in the present criminal justice system, holding them responsible for what is going on right from reportable crime to the trial of the accused.

?The loopholes exist in all three major areas, including police investigation, prosecution and courts,?

Mahboobi said. He said conviction in criminal cases depends upon production of evidence, witnesses and cross-examination.

He said there was no security system for the witnesses when they appeared in the courts against hardened criminals and in some initial hearings they abandoned the cases to avoid risks. This benefit the accused.

The retired judge said the lack of centralised crime data base of the accused in the police department was also one of the major factors that went in the accused favour. ?The judicial officers have no access to the centralised data base of criminals being presented by the police in the courts,? he said.

?A judicial officer can give an appropriate punishment once he is facilitated by the police as well as prosecutors with complete crime history of the accused,? he said.

Mahboobi also blamed the investigation officers (of police) as they ask the complainants to present evidence and witnesses rather than visiting the spots to collect the same themselves. It is sole duty of an IO to pay frequent visits to the crime spot and collect and produce evidence in the court of law rather than depending upon the complainants.

?I think parliament should also play its due role and for this an amendment to the existing laws is the dire need of time,? he said.

The amendment required in the law to define three years as minimum punishment for the reportable crime.

Mahboobi said a lot of exercise was required to streamline the criminal justice system. He suggested that the Punjab police, prosecution, bar associations and judiciary should sit together for durable and long-term strategies to bring a solution to this critical issue.

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2017

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