A number of DNC officials and lawyers blamed the poor conviction rate on faulty charge sheets, a lack of witnesses, and poor performance of the prosecutors and the police
A staggering 62.23% of the total number of people accused in drug-related offences has been acquitted in the past five years, due to the prosecution’s failure to prove the charges against them.
A statistical report compiled by the Department of Narcotic Control (DNC) brought the matter into the light.
A number of DNC officials and lawyers blamed the poor conviction rate on faulty charge sheets, a lack of witnesses, and poor performance of the prosecutors and the police.
They also attributed the large number of acquittals to delays in the trial process, manpower shortages, and procedural flaws in lodging cases.
The aforementioned factors are contributing to the acquittal of more than 60% of the suspects accused in drug-related offences.
DNC officials added that some of these individuals are repeatedly getting involved in the illegal narcotics trade, as most of the accused go unpunished due to a lack of strong evidence and other shortcomings of the prosecution.
Dr Shahdeen Malik, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh told the Dhaka Tribune: “If witnesses do not appear before the court to testify, then the court cannot sentence a person due to lack of evidence.”
Pointing out that Bangladesh is among the very few countries that choose their prosecutors from cadres, Dr Shahdeen said: “One of the major causes for so many acquittals in drug related cases is the inefficiency of public prosecutors.
“Meanwhile, the police have three primary responsibilities – filing of cases, investigation, and submitting necessary evidence before the court. But the law enforcers are not producing enough evidence, which usually results in the accused being acquitted.”
According to the DNC statistics, a total of 14,515 cases were disposed of against 16,388 accused by different courts in the last five years (2013-2017), a total of 7,356 people were convicted and 9,032 suspects were acquitted of charges.
In 2017, trial of 2,539 cases was concluded against 2,680 accused, but only 1,065 suspects were convicted and 1,615 were acquitted of the charges. In 2016, a total of 5,348 cases were disposed of against 7,133 people. Of them, only 2,927 people were convicted and 4,206 were acquitted of charges in that year.
In 2015, a total of 1,873 cases were disposed of against 2,013 people, where 971 accused were convicted and 1,042 were acquitted of charges. In 2014, a total of 2,689 cases were disposed of against 2,287 people, where 1,175 people were convicted and 1,112 others acquitted of charges.
In 2013, a total of 2,066 cases were disposed of, where 1,218 people were found guilty while 1,057 were acquitted of charges.
After completion of the trial, Dhaka Speedy Trial Tribunal-4 on May 20 acquitted Saiful, after the prosecution failed to prove any charges.
In the verdict, Judge Abdur Rahman Sarder pointed out that the prosecution could not present any witnesses, excluding the plaintiff of the case before the court and it will not be logical to hand out punishment only based on a FIR.
This has become a common phenomenon in drug-related cases, as most accused walk free because of the lack of evidence against them and the negligence of the prosecution lawyers.
Speaking with the Dhaka Tribune, Tapash Kumar Paul, additional public prosecutor at Metropolitan Sessions Judges Court firmly refuted the allegations of negligence.
Commenting on the issue, the state lawyer said: “The court pronounces a judgment on the basis of evidence, often obtained from the depositions of witnesses. But witnesses are often absent from the court during trial.
“A number of people, who were made witnesses by the investigators on several cases, gave statements against the charges. In some cases, the investigators even fail to present any evidence.”
He added: “We are making a serious effort to bring these people to justice, but weak FIRs, poor investigation and incomplete charge sheets are contributing to the majority of the acquittals of the suspects.
“In some cases, witnesses claimed that they know nothing about the cases during cross-examinations. The culprits are using these loopholes to walk free, and there is nothing we can do about it.”
There are also allegations that investigators mention Yaba and Phensedyl as banned narcotics, instead of the chemical compounds amphetamine and codeine, which weakens the chargesheet.
Investigators are also reportedly taking bribes to prepare faulty charge sheets on purpose.
Firmly denying these allegations Deputy Commissioner M Anisur Rahman of Criminal Intelligence and Prosecution of DMP said: “We are doing our best to produce witnesses before the court.”