States misuse Section 321 CrPC to withdraw criminal cases; numbers spike during elections years: Vidhi report

The report highlighted how withdrawal of prosecution points at the increased withdrawal of cases during election years, particularly when elections result in a change in the political party in power.
Criminal Law
Criminal Law

The number of criminal cases which are withdrawn by States governments spikes during election years especially when there is a change in the political party in power, a recently released report by policy think tank Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy highlighted.

The report, titled 'The Quest for Prosecutorial Independence' said that Section 321 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) which empowers the public prosecutors to withdraw the prosecution, is often misused by political executive to serve their own ends.

"In recent years, across many states, the executive has misused this provision to gain political support and allies during elections. At many instances, political parties have even made electoral promises to withdraw prosecution against political supporters to gain support and votes in the election," the report stated.

In States where this provision (Section 321 CrPC) was used to withdraw a significant number of cases, the year-wise distribution of the withdrawal of prosecution points at the increased withdrawal of cases during election years, particularly when elections result in a change in the political party in power, the report added.

In this regard the report cited how political parties made it their election promises including Aam Aadmi Party in 2013 Delhi elections, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in 2019 Jharkhand elections, Indian National Congress in 2019 Madhya Pradesh elections and 2019 Odisha elections and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 2020 Tamil Nadu elections.

Increased withdrawal of cases during election years, particularly when elections result in a change in the political party in power.
Vidhi report
Withdrawal of cases
Withdrawal of cases

The report also threw light on the functioning of the office of public prosecution, and investigates the institutional and structural factors currently impinging on the independence of prosecutorial offices in India.

The report has been authored by Chitrakshi Jain, Aditya Ranjan, and Jigar Parmar. It has been filed as a research work undertaken as part of the Vidhi Centre's initatives of advocating for judicial reforms.

The 55-page report also explores the dominant themes in the way the law and structure related to prosecutorial offices have evolved in the country, the scheme provided in the CrPC towards their appointments and general functioning and the discretion prosecutors have at different stages of trial and investigation stages.

"The report is written with the understanding that an independent office of prosecution is necessarily linked to a well-functioning, due process based criminal justice system. The research questions interrogate the influence of state practices on the independence of procuracy in India," a part of the report's introductory section said.

The report highlighted how institutional arrangements that the prosecutors operate within have significant influences on the discharge of their responsibilities.

The independence of prosecution from the State executive is important for its optimal functioning, towards which laws and rules involving their appointments and functioning require amendments, the report said.

Calling on States to strongly push towards prosecutorial reforms, the report stressed on the following for general independence of prosecution:

  1. Establishing objective standards and a comprehensive process for appointments of public prosecutors;

  2. Guiding executive direction to appoint special public prosecutors;

  3. Expanding the role of the prosecutor at the pre-trial stage;

  4. Eliminating executive interference in withdrawal of cases;

  5. Creating a robust system to ensure prosecutorial accountability

[Read Report]

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Vidhi Report on Prosecutorial Independence.pdf
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[Read our coverage of the launch of the report]

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