‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’-William Gladstone, four times British Prime Minister (1868-1874, 1880-1885, 1886 and 1892-1894)
This newspaper, in two articles carried yesterday and on Wednesday, highlighted the seriousness of ‘laws delays’ plaguing the social fabric of Sri Lanka for decades.
Yesterday’s article published on page three ran a self-explanatory heading, ‘464 homicides in 2020, not one conviction.’
Meanwhile the other story carried on Wednesday, which was the lead story of this newspaper on that day, ran the heading, ‘Police fail to secure a single conviction.’ It was in respect of ‘zero convictions in a cumulative total of 2,055 rape; sexual abuse of children and cruelty to children cases filed before the Police in 2020.
The consensual age for sex in Sri Lanka is 16. The total number of rape cases alone filed before the Police last year which comprised 1,953; included statutory rape cases as well, i.e. of having sex with girls under16 years of age, with or without their consent.
The authorities not being able to obtain a single conviction for a total number of 2,469 cases filed on a cumulative basis before the Police last year covering four grave crimes such as homicides, rape, cruelty to children and sexual abuse of children, is an affront to Sri Lanka’s justice system.
Of the 464 homicide cases filed before the Police, 341 or 73.49 per cent of those cases were still being investigated by them, 112 or 24.14 per cent were before Court/AG’s Department, 10 (2.16 per cent) had been disposed of without any conviction, while one (0.22 per cent) had been thrown out on a ‘technicality,’ Police said.
Of the 1,953 rape cases filed, 1,565 (80.08 per cent) of those complaints were still being investigated by the Police; 420 (21.51 per cent) were before Court/AG’s Department; 22 (1.13 per cent) were disposed of and two (01 per cent) thrown out on ‘technicalities.’
Of the 26 cases of sexual exploitation of children filed before the Police last year, 18 (69.23 per cent) were still being investigated; seven (26.92 per cent) were before the AG’s Department/Court, while the other (one or 3.85 per cent) had been disposed of.
In respect of the 76 cases of ‘cruelty to children’ filed before the Police, 52 (68.42 per cent) of those cases were still being investigated, 23 (30.26 per cent) were either before Court or with the AG’s Department and the balance one (1.32 per cent) disposed of.
One may blame COVID-19 for ‘laws delays’ in 2020, but a similar pattern of ‘laws delays’ also appears in 2019, i.e. in the pre COVID-19 era.
For instance of the 479 homicide cases filed in 2019, Police were successful in obtaining only two (0.42 per cent) convictions, 299 (62.42 per cent) were still being investigated by the Police, 160 (33.40 per cent) were before Court, 20 (4.18 per cent) disposed of and in one (0.21 per cent), the accused was acquitted, according to Police data.
Of the 1,779 rape cases filed before Police in 2019; Police were successful in obtaining only one (0.06 per cent) conviction; 1,279 (71.89 per cent) of those rape cases were still being investigated by them; 471 (26.48 per cent) were before Court/AG’s Department and 26 (1.46 per cent) disposed of.
Similarly, of the 34 cases of sexual exploitation of children filed before Police, two (5.88 per cent) such cases disposed of, however with no convictions; 26 (76.47 per cent) still under Police investigation and six (23.08 per cent) before Court/AG’s Department.
And, of the 80 cases of cruelty to children that were lodged before Police in 2019, of which only three (3.75 per cent) were disposed of, just one (1.25 per cent) conviction obtained, while 50 (62.5 per cent) of those cases were still being investigated by the Police and 27 (33.75 per cent) of those were before Court/AG’s Department.
It may therefore be seen in the pre-COVID-19 era (2019), the number of homicide cases filed before Police that year but which investigations were incomplete were 62.42 per cent, rape (71.89 per cent), sexual exploitation of children (76.47 per cent) and cruelty to children (62.5 per cent), respectively.
And, in the COVID-19 era (2020), similar incomplete Police investigation data comprised, homicides (73.49 per cent), rape (80.08per cent), sexual exploitation of children (69.23per cent) and cruelty to children (68.42 per cent), respectively.
Pre and post COVID-19 era, Police’s incomplete investigations of such grave crimes were above 60 per cent. What therefore is required is for the Government to strengthen the investigative capabilities of the Police and if there be any bottlenecks, such as political pressure impinging on such investigations, to remove them.