Saturday, July 24, 2004

Best Bakery Retrial in India; problems in the Criminal Justice system

The "Best Bakery" case is being retried outside of Gujurat. The Christian Science Monitor has a good story on it. You should read the whole thing, but the following stood out to me:

The first trial, held in May 2003 in the state of Gujarat, where the massacre took place, ended in the acquittal of all 21 of the accused rioters after the victims changed their testimony. The Indian Supreme Court last April ordered a retrial out of state, calling state officials "modern-day Neros" for ignoring the complaints of witnesses that they had been politically harassed and pressured to change their testimony by police and state officials.

The opportunity for another trial in this cornerstone case is seen here as an important chance to resolve a major irritant in Hindu- Muslim relations and a chance to chip away at the pervasive problem of witness tampering in the Indian justice system."This case has been a kind of systematic failure of the Indian legal system," says Teesta Setalwad, a human rights activist who led the effort to get the case a second hearing. "This has been a symbol, hopefully, to revive the criminal justice system in India."

In a country where prosecutors win violent criminal cases only 4 percent of the time, some dramatic reforms are required, Ms. Setalwad says. "In India, we have failed (in providing justice.) Trials take 10 years to finish. Witnesses turn hostile and change their testimony. The whole system needs to change."


Earlier, I was mocked for coming up with some odd ideas for getting better results from the Indian criminal justice system (I had suggested the central government use helicopters to videotape communal incidents that police are incapable or unwilling to stop). And maybe the idea was a little silly.

But with statistics like that (4 percent conviction rate on violent crimes, 10 years to complete a trial), I think even really radical solutions deserve a hearing.

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