Understanding Our Criminal Justice System
When we see someone violating the law, we immediately think of informing the police. After a person is arrested, it is a court of law that decides whether the accused person is guilty or not. According to the Constitution, every individual charged of a crime has to be given a fair trial.
Role of the Police in Investigating a Crime
One important function of the police is to investigate any complaint about the commission of a crime. An investigation includes recording statements of witnesses and collecting different kinds of evidence. On the basis of the investigation, the police are required to form an opinion. If the police think that the evidence points to the guilt of the accused person, then they file a charge-sheet in the court. It is not the job of the police to decide whether a person is guilty or innocent, that is for the judge to decide.
Everyone is subject to the law of the land. This includes the police. Therefore, police investigations always have to be conducted in accordance with law and with full respect for human rights. The Supreme Court has laid down guidelines that the police must follow at the time of arrest, detention and interrogation. The police are not allowed to torture or beat or shoot anyone during investigation. They cannot inflict any form of punishment on a person even for petty offences.
Article 22 of the Constitution and criminal law guarantee to every arrested person the following Fundamental Rights:
• The Right to be informed at the time of arrest of the offence for which the person is being arrested.
• The Right to be presented before a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest.
• The Right not to be ill treated or tortured during arrest or in custody.
• Confessions made in police custody cannot be used as evidence against the accused.
• A boy under 15 years of age and women cannot be called to the police station only for questioning.
Role of the Public Prosecutor
A criminal offence is regarded as a public wrong. What is meant by this is that it is considered to have been committed not only against the affected victims but against society as a whole.
In court, it is the Public Prosecutor who represents the interests of the State. The role of the Prosecutor begins once the police has conducted the investigation and filed the charge-sheet in the court. He/she has no role to play in the investigation. The Prosecutor must conduct the prosecution on behalf of the State. As an officer of the court, it is his/ her duty to act impartially and present the full and material facts, witnesses and evidence before the court to enable the court to decide the case.
Role of the Judge
The judge is like an umpire in a game and conducts the trial impartially and in an open court. The judge hears all the witnesses and any other evidence presented by the prosecution and the defense. The judge decides whether the accused person is guilty or innocent on the basis of the evidence presented and in accordance with the law. If the accused is convicted, then the judge pronounces the sentence. He may send the person to jail or impose a fine or both, depending on what the law prescribes.
Meaning of Fair Trial
Article 21 of the Constitution, that guarantees the Right to Life, states that a person’s life or liberty can be taken away only by following a reasonable and just legal procedure. A fair trial ensures that Article 21 of the Constitution is upheld. The Constitution and the law both state that all of the persons should carry out their roles in a proper manner. What this means is that they all need to work to ensure that every citizen, irrespective of their class, caste, gender, religious and ideological backgrounds gets a fair trial when accused. The rule of law which says that everyone is equal before the law would not make much sense if every citizen were not guaranteed a fair trial by the Constitution.
First Information Report (FIR):
It is with the registration of an FIR that the police can begin their investigations into a crime. The law states that it is compulsory for an officer in charge of a police station to register an FIR whenever a person gives information about a cognizable offence. This information can be given to the police either orally or in writing. The FIR usually mentions the date, time and place of the offence, details the basic facts of the offence, including a description of the events. If known, the identity of the accused persons and witnesses is also mentioned. The FIR also states the name and address of the complainant. There is a prescribed form in which the police registers an FIR and it is signed by the complainant. The complainant also has a legal right to get a free copy of the FIR from the police.
Accused: In the context of this chapter this refers to the person who is tried by a court for a crime.
Cognizable: In the context of this chapter this refers to an offence for which the police may arrest a person without the permission of the court.
Cross-examine: In the context of this chapter this refers to the questioning of a witness who has already been examined by the opposing side in order to determine the veracity of his/her testimony.
Detention: In the context of this chapter this refers to the act of being kept in illegal custody by the police.
Impartial: The act of being fair or just and not favouring one side over another. Offence: Any act that the law defines as a crime.
To be charged of a crime: This refers to the trial judge informing the accused, in writing, of the offence for which he/she will face trial.
Witness: In the context of this chapter this refers to the person who is called upon in court to provide a first-hand account of what he/she has seen, heard or knows.