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Comparison of the conviction rates of a few countries of the world

September 27, 2007
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It’s really worrying to note that our conviction rate has declined “from 64.8 per cent in 1961 to 41.8 in 2000 and 40.8 in 2001.” These are apparently the latest figures that are available, figures officially released by the Home Ministry.

Worse, this 40 percent (which I am sure has decreased further by now) means nothing. It says here:

But that 40% is actually a camouflage because every time there is a challan and somebody pays Rs 100 as fine, it is recorded as a conviction. Every time somebody feels guilty and pays a fine under company law, we take it as a conviction and then claim that the conviction rate is 40%. In heinous crimes like murder, the conviction rate under the so-called normal processes has come down to 6.5%.

The reality is that our conviction rate for certain crimes is as low as 14.9% (terrorist and disruptive activities), assault/murder cases 6.2%, molestation cases 4.8%. And these are the 2001 figures!
Causes for a low conviction rate can range from shortage of investigative officers, pressure from politicians, corruption to a slow judicial system. But wait, almost all countries have conviction rates that are a cause for concern, although for different reasons!

Too high a conviction rate
Countries like Japan have a conviction rate of 99.97 percent, and China has a conviction rate of about 98 percent – and this is not necessarily good because a high conviction rate can mean that people are not getting a fair trial. In such a scenario crime doesn’t really stop (and could increase) as clever criminals avoid being caught and I am sure are quite happy that at least someone is getting caught and being tried for their crimes!

It is perhaps not all that surprising that that this could be happening in China…but in Japan too? Well, they have realised it, specially as their conviction rate rose after their jury system was done away with. Now they are thinking of re-introducing it.

One of the reasons for a high conviction rate is that people are put behind bars routinely on the basis of their own confessions. And all of us in India know only too well about how police extract confessions!!

Russia is another country which suffers from the malaise of a high conviction rate. It was so during their communist rule, but their conviction rate of over 90 percent has not significantly reduced even after their political system changed. Russia’s aim had been to establish an ‘independent judiciary’ and to give rights to the accused, but even today “the current system continues to perpetuate the Soviet practice of almost automatically convicting everyone who appears in court.”
This article from the Washington post says:

Judges do not see themselves as in any way separate from prosecutors and police. You can write democratic laws, but you have to follow them, too

In Russia, cases heard by judges have a conviction rate of about 99 percent. In jury trials it’s around about 15 -20 percent less, but as only 8 percent of all criminals trials are tried by juries, this is not of any significance. Worse, those who are acquitted are often re-tried and there have been cases of defendants being found guilty after 2-3 acquittals!

In India we apparently follow the Anglo-Saxon system:

…its basic premise that even if a thousand guilty persons escape punishment, not one innocent should be punished. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the prosecution to prepare foolproof cases that can stand judicial scrutiny.

What about Britain and the US then?
Well, Britain is in a soup if this article is anything to go by. This IHT article (2006) says:

…conviction rates for many violent crimes have been declining since 1997 and are now below 10 per cent.

There is a serious concern in Britain with regard to their low conviction rate in rape cases. Overall though Britain has a decent conviction rate of about 74 percent. It’s the conviction rate for violent crimes which is a big problem and well, that is what is of utmost concern to citizens.

It was difficult to get the conviction rates for United States, although I did get some statistics for individual states. From I understand the overall conviction rates range from 65 percent to 80 percent and American conviction rates are higher than Britain’s. However there is criticism of America’s high conviction rate as it is felt that that America puts far too many people in prison!

Well, looking at these figures for some other countries in the world, I think we in India shouldn’t blame ourselves too much…although it’s a long long struggle ahead. Hopefully we can improve our conviction rate without falling into the pitfalls that some others have. It is indeed interesting that India has a low conviction rate inspite of having a judge system. In countries like Russia, China or Japan, judges have a high level of accountability to the state and that is why they try to convict as many people as possible. The problem is that they could be taking it too far.

Another problem in our country is the high number of undertrials, far over the actual number convicted (which means they are innocent!), but then that is another story. And matter for another post.

Related Reading: Comparision of violent crime in the world
Social Trust is connected to poverty and crime
Too many on security duty in India
Poor citizen to police ratio
Crime decreasing all over the developed world

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. B Chopra permalink
    September 27, 2007 11:17 am

    It’s easy for defence lawyers to get acquitals.. Ram Jethmalani knows the secret.. We should ask him to comment here.. He knows most of the loopholes in our LAW.

    Was he right Law Minister?

  2. September 27, 2007 6:18 pm

    American justice is based on the premise that the accused is innocent until proven guilty and they are entitled to a jury of their peers. Conviction rates don’t give an accurate portrayal of crime anymore than the amount of prisoners do.

    American jails are very overcrowded and are that way for the primary reason of drugs. The ‘War On Drugs’ and mandatory sentences passed by legislation have created a situation whereby many prisoners are being locked up for longer terms for drug possession than rapists and even murderers.

    Another tool, DNA, has led to a number of exonerations after decades imprisoned for crimes not committed. Some have even been on Death Row. These cases have revealed that the police and the legal system are more concerned with convictions than justice.

    Which brings me back to your post. There will always be crime and criminals that are never caught. The question for any society is how fine a net to use when scooping up the general public. How many innocents must be punished unjustly in order to reduce crime?

    • ajrg54 permalink
      December 23, 2015 11:09 pm

      We have the same problems as India and have a 95% conviction rate. We must think outside the box or give all power to prosecutors as in the US or defenders as in India.

  3. September 27, 2007 7:00 pm

    Bharath, Ram Jethmalani is one guy the judges will hate! But he fell flat on his face recently…I think it was the jessica lal case.

    Brian, thanks for an American point of view. I like the way you put it:
    //The question for any society is how fine a net to use when scooping up the general public. How many innocents must be punished unjustly in order to reduce crime?//
    Well, hopefully not a single one!

  4. September 27, 2007 9:33 pm

    lol even if thousand one innocent shouldn’t be punished…good and that one will already be dead…

  5. September 27, 2007 11:54 pm

    Hi! Nice blog! But regarding the second disclaimer, under the fair use clause of the copyright law, you have complete rights to do all that and more, so even if someone complains, you don’t have to really pull the stuff down.

    This is quite an interesting post and since you have done all the hard work on stats, I am really curious about the criminal conviction rate in India. Back when I was in school, like six years ago, I had read somewhere that the criminal conviction rate in India is around 7%, though I might be wrong. You report a 6.5% somewhere. So, I am beginning to wonder what it is and has it changed/ remained steady?

    The “even if thousand guilty go free, an innocent shouldn’t be punished” is a much cherished principle of the British criminal law (from which much of our own legal systems have been derived) and I, for one, have a lot of respect for it. Would you want to be the convicted innocent?

  6. September 28, 2007 12:02 am

    Brian’s point is quite valid and I would personally much rather have the Brit system compared to the US one. Also, Canadian legal systems look really interesting from here. Perhaps, Nita can include Canada in the list the next time! Another interesting issue is that of capital punishment.

    The evidence collection and police malfunction in India are at disgustingly pathetic standards and under these conditions, I think I am somewhat glad that our conviction rates are low. Hopefully, the law enforcement agencies in India will improve and will someday have enough manpower and resources to actually provide good law and order for everyone. But till then, I will personally be more afraid of another grades kind of thing being made out of this conviction rate. Suddenly, the Indian judiciary one fine day decides that they need a better conviction rates and starts acting funny just like CBSE did with school passing rates. That would be really scary and, come to think of it, given India, it’s entirely possible too!

  7. September 28, 2007 12:58 am

    in japan ive heard most cases are dealt with the friendly neighborhood beat cop , maybe thats why theirs is high

    in india economic criminals prefer to just give the penalty as it is generally trivial -considering the profits involved – the Reliance stake increase in LnT is a salient example

    the criminals and rich often get away in india
    and operate either through the jail or from Pak
    the innocent and poor ones are the ones that suffer

  8. September 28, 2007 1:00 am

    the other lot are the undertrials who sometimes rot for more than the sentence period just to get the case over with

  9. September 28, 2007 7:21 am

    Anshul, thanks for visiting and welcome to the blog.
    actually I have put that no, 2 disclaimer there more because of formality than anything else.
    About the conviction rate, its a subject which interests me greatly and you are right, I worked very hard for this post! It was difficult to get proper conviction rates for the various countries, maybe i was not typing the right keyword! I wish there was one site with a proper comparison! I guess its difficult as countries don’t reveal details.
    The conviction rate varies with reference to the crime. My figures are not the latest (could not get them online) but conviction rates in India for murder are 6.5%. Apparently the conviction rates have been deteriorating in India but the problem is comparative figures are available only for the overall rate. So one does not know which component is going down or which is remaining steady!

    Prax, I had read about that point you mentioned. That in Japan only the strong cases go to court, but as I got some contradictory info I didn’t mention that. But actually I tend to believe it. I don’t believe that Japan is like Russia or China in this regard.

    Vishesh, I know how it sounds, criminals walking free. Its scary. But even more scarier is an innocent person being convicted. I think a justice system should certainly improve its investigative capabilities and today we have forensic science to help us. Lets work harder to catch the guilty, and if don’t work hard enough, well, the society as a whole will suffer as criminals will walk free.

  10. Valkyrie607 permalink
    November 8, 2010 1:33 am

    Indeed, it’s the people who get locked in prison for using or possessing drugs who are driving up the rate of incarceration in the US. Violent crime rates have been falling and while I personally have not been able to find easily accessible data about conviction rates for murders, the fact that the crime rate is dropping shows that murderers running loose on the streets isn’t a pressing problem here.

    Consider, however, that the conviction rate for rapists in the US is 6%. I bet it’s even lower in India, where discrimination against women is even stronger than in the US.

  11. Indian permalink
    February 22, 2012 5:36 pm

    From last few years in India crime has increased at an alarming rate. People are not safe at all. One should not tell about your wealth, activities or movements to anyone. It has become like South Africa or worst. Opportunistic crimes against visitor, foreigners are on rise. Please be ALERT while visiting India

  12. August 22, 2013 3:40 am

    The U.S. Department of Justice reported, in their “United States Attorneys’ Annual Statistical Report”, that the federal conviction rate in the United States for 2011 was 93%. Most criminal sociologists agree that a healthy conviction rate is anywhere in the 60%-70% range. Anything higher or lower is a signal that something going wrong in the justice system.

    In the U.S. the cause of the high conviction rate is due to “charge-loading” – Prosecutors, obsessed with racking up a high career conviction rate (usually to use as leverage for future considerations in the political arena) “charge-load” the accused. They will tack on any change that can, in even the remotest possible sense, be related to the defendant. I was aware of a case a few years back where a man was arrested on a domestic violence charge – while in a heated argument with his wife, he slapped her – the prosecutor tacked on a charge of “Uttering terrorist threats”, along with a whole mess of other charges. The idea is, they load you up with charges and they say:

    “Look, we’re going to charge you with all of this. Combined, you’re going to do 40 years if you’re found guilty. Even if you beat half of them, you’re still going away for maybe 10 or 20 years. But, tell you what, you plead guilty to this one charge and we’ll drop everything else. You’ll get three years, and you’ll be out in 12 months.”

    So… hmmm… take the 12 months? Or, go to trial and gamble with the rest of my useful life? Most people opt for the plea bargain – whether they’re actually guilty or not. And, they’re smart to do it. Of course, the plea bargain counts as a conviction.

    The unfortunate reality of this, however, is that the U.S. is now a country which is effectively operating without a real system of justice. Bargaining an innocent person into prison so you can inflate your conviction count and wave it around as a badge of “I’m tough on crime, so vote for me” honor, is most assuredly NOT anything that can be considered justice.

    What’s interesting is Japan’s high conviction rate is due to a completely different phenomenon – Japan has been wracked by an underfunded judicial system for years. It causes the stretched-too-thin prosecutors to drop the vast majority of their cases. The ones they do decided to keep, of course, are the ones where there is almost no question of guilt or innocence. So, the only people who end up before a judge are people that a three-year old likely wouldn’t have any trouble in accurately assessing whether or not they should be convicted.

    Japan’s high conviction rate results in a lot of guilty people going free, and not many innocent people going to jail. The U.S.’s high conviction rate results in a lot of EVERYBODY going to jail – the guilty and innocent alike.

  13. Lauren permalink
    May 18, 2015 11:08 pm

    America’s Federal government has as a 98% conviction rate!! Do not mislead the readers. State vs Federal is different. Our Federal government is corrupted. Innocent until proven guilty is a lie and you need to approve your defense with the prosecutor on the Federal level. People need to be informed. That’s what FAMM is fighting for.


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  3. Tweets that mention Every tym sum1 feels guilty n pays fine undr company law, we take it as a conviction & claim dat conviction rate is 40% --

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