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