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Friday, May 27, 2016

Survey-based measurement of the Criminal Justice System

by Renuka Sane.

In India, we all seem to agree that we have a dysfunctional criminal justice system. This, has however, not yet translated into large scale attempt at reform. Perhaps the reason for the inaction is our inability to quantify the nature and extent of the problem. For example, we don't really have good quality data on crime or actions by the police . We don't have good quality data on the extent and causes of delays in our courts. Our court systems inhibit measurement. Since we don't have this data, we cannot estimate the cost of badly run police and courts on the economy, and on the satisfaction of our citizens. Evidence has not been marshaled in a systematic way about the extent and nature of under-performance. What gets measured, gets managed. This post describes two new survey based initiatives on measuring the problems in our criminal justice system.

Crime victimisation and safety perceptions


We helped initiate a first Crime Victimisation and Safety Perceptions Survey, with Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI). This survey asks 5850 households in Mumbai and 4950 households in Delhi three broad questions:

  1. Were they a victim of a crime in the last one year? (such as theft, house break-in, sexual harassment, assault, criminal intimidation, unnatural death, and missing persons)
  2. Did the households report this to the police? Did the police respond appropriately? If the households chose to not report to the police, what were their reasons?
  3. Do households feel safe in their neighbourhoods? Or in public transport? At different times of the day?

The survey has given some important new facts. A full 13% of households in Delhi and 15% in Mumbai report being victims of one of the crimes, with theft being the most commonly experienced crime. Reporting of crime is low in both cities, at less than 50%. The lowest reporting percentage is for sexual harassment - only 11.1% cases were reported in Mumbai, and 7.5% in Delhi. In both cities, the reporting was on the passing of lewd or unwelcome sexual comments. Incidents of groping were not reported.

The most important reason for non-reporting was that people just didn't want to get caught up in police or court matters. Not having enough evidence was cited as the second reason for not going forward with the reporting. Households felt that the police would just not be able to do anything about their complaint. The anticipation of households is perhaps not misplaced, for less than half of the cases reported to the police by the respondents had an FIR registered. This is particularly the case for sexual harassment cases. None of the cases reported in Delhi and 40% of cases in Mumbai led to an FIR filing. Similarly, none of the missing persons complaints in Mumbai lead to a FIR registration. Low initial reporting by households, and low registration of FIRs by the police implies that official crime statistics perhaps only report one-quarter of the crime experienced. This under-reporting gap is significant.

Of those households who reported crime, roughly 36% in Delhi and 51% in Mumbai said they were satisfied with the first police response. The largest satisfaction is with the police response on assault cases, both in Delhi and Mumbai. The lowest satisfaction is on police response on house break-in (in Mumbai), and on sexual-harassment (in Delhi). It is likely that the record of the police on investigations and actual completion of a case is even lower.

Households in Delhi begin feeling unsafe, even in their own neighbourhoods, earlier in the evening than those in Mumbai. People's fear of crime is correlated with what is experienced in their neighbourhoods. The crime people are most fearful of is theft in both cities. Households in Delhi are more fearful of sexual harassment, while in Mumbai are fearful of assault. Residents of Mumbai generally perceived the police in a more positive light, and felt safer than those in Delhi.

Access to justice survey


It is instructive that the biggest cause of under-reporting is not that the police will not take the complaint, but that people feared getting caught up in police and court matters. This is where the results of the Access to Justice Survey by the Daksh Foundation becomes important. This survey is undertaken across 300 district courts all over India, and maps 9329 litigants' perceptions on issues relevant to their experiences with the judicial system. The survey focuses on questions like:

  1. Who is accessing the judicial system? This includes information on the socio-economic profile of citizens who seek remedy from courts.
  2. What are litigants using the judicial system for? What is the subject matter of the civil cases?
  3. What is the litigants perception of delay in courts? Why do the litigants think the delay occurs?
  4. What is the cost to litigants of access courts?

The survey finds that 84.3% of the litigants were male. Women accounted for only 15% of the litigants, suggesting that women in India don't really access courts. 80% were Hindus, with 45% belonging to the "General" caste category. Most cases are between people of the same religion, that is, 74% of the cases by Hindu survey respondents are against other Hindu respondents, 43% of the cases by Muslim respondents and 75% cases by Christian respondents are against members of their own religious communities. This is similar across caste as well. 15.6% of all litigants had traveled between 50 km and 300 km to reach the courts for hearings.

Those engaged in agriculture accounted for 38% of the litigants, followed by those in private service at 24%. What is interesting is that a large majority of these litigants (almost 80%) are in the less than Rs.3 lakh annual income category. Almost 50% of the litigants have only studied till Class XII. This suggests that it is the low-income individuals that are choosing to access courts. Land and property matters dominate civil litigation across the country, followed by litigation on family matters. This correlates with those in agriculture being the largest category of litigants, and with cases being fought against members of one's own religious communities.

The survey finds that 10% of accused were handcuffed within the court premises. This goes against Supreme court guidelines that guarantee a minimum freedom of movement. Only 63.5% of the accused who were granted bail were in jail in less than one month - this means that almost 40% of accused who were granted bail, had to stay in jail for longer than a month.

The surveyed litigants felt that the two causes of delay were the inability of judges to pass orders quickly, and the non-appearance of opposite parties on the dates fixed for trial. This is costly -- civil litigants spend Rs.497 per day on average for court hearings. They incur a loss of Rs.844 per day due to loss of pay. Criminal litigants spend Rs.542 per day for court hearings on average and incurred a cost of Rs.902 per day due to loss of pay. Their analysis indicates that log-jammed courts are wiping almost 0.5% off India's GDP, and this is likely to be an underestimate because it doesn't measure the cost of cases that never even came to courts.

The way forward


Core public goods like safety are the responsibility of the government. In India, substantial outlays on the criminal justice system are being made, but there is no measurement of the outcome. We are at the early stages of figuring out how to reform courts [link, link] and more generally the criminal justice system. Surveys such as those above are the one of the first few attempts at building a systematic database about the outcomes obtained in the field of the police and courts. This can shape policy thinking in the future, about reforms of the existing criminal justice system, and about the resourcing of this core public good.

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