Prosecutor, not persecutor

Source: The Hindu 

Relevance: This article highlights the role of public prosecutors in ensuring a fair justice system.

Synopsis:

The public prosecutor has an ethical obligation to balance the interests of the victims, the accused, and society. His/her conduct shouldn’t be of a persecutor aiming to persistently harass the accused.

Background:
  • Father Swamy’s arrest under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) has highlighted issues related to police power, pretrial detention, and draconian anti-terror legislation.
  • However, the role of prosecutors towards under-trial detentions has been largely ignored. 
Role of public prosecutor in criminal justice system:
  • Public prosecutors are influential at every stage of a trial and impact the degree of justice awarded to the accused.
  • They decide what offences the accused person should be charged with, whether to seek pretrial custody and what sentence to ask for. 
    • The prosecutor played a significant role in ensuring that the bail plea of Father swamy doesn’t get accepted by giving sufficient evidence against him.
    • Further, he argued that the court must give precedence to the interest of the community/society over Father Swamy’s right to liberty.
  • Public prosecutors also have a role in narrative building. Since they present the state’s case in criminal trials, they build narratives of criminality and criminalisation. They play a key role in translating criminal “law on the books” to criminal “law in action.
    • Such narratives are especially crucial in cases involving alleged terrorist activities and “anti-nationals”, where the issue of security of the state becomes important for an ordinary citizen.
    • Further, their opinions have built a culture supporting undertrail detentions. Currently, two third prisoners in Indian jails are undertrials.
Judgements on their conduct:
  • Sheo Nandan Paswan v. State of Bihar (1986): The SC said that they need not be extremely concerned about the outcome of the case. They act as officers of the court and are obliged to ensure that the accused person is not unfairly treated.
  • Jitendra Kumar v. State (1999): The Delhi HC said that the prosecutor cannot assume the role of a persecutor. It is no part of his duty to secure conviction at all costs.
    • The Public Prosecutor should act fairly and impartially and must be conscious of the rights of the accused.
Way Ahead:

The public prosecutors represent the public and are not mere mouthpieces for law enforcement agencies. They have an ethical obligation to seek justice balancing the interests of the victims of crime, society, and those accused of crimes. 

Thus, public prosecutors who support criminal justice reform can be a powerful force for altering the culture of undertrial detention.

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