In our first story on ‘hate speech’ cases, it was observed that the number of cases booked under Sections 153A & 153AA has been increasing over the years. While the cases have increased, the disposal rates of both the police & courts have come down leading to increased pendency. Even in cases whose trial is complete between 2016 & 2020, the conviction rate was only around 20%.
In the previous story, we looked at the legal framework of ‘Hate Speech’ in India and the trends in the cases registered under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Cold (IPC). Based on the information provided in the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) Crime in India (CII) report, we analysed the cases booked under Sections 153A & 153AA i.e., under the head “Promoting enmity between groups.”
In the second part & final part of this series, we look at the disposal of these cases by the police and in the courts. This analysis is based on the data from the NCRB’s CII report.
The pendency of ‘Hate Speech’ cases with the Police increased between 2016 & 2020
In the earlier story, we have highlighted that there is a year-on-year increase in the number of cases filed under IPC 153A & 153AA, and there was a considerable increase in the number of new cases filed in 2020.
Apart from the increase in the new cases, the number of pending cases with the police has also increased continuously as the police disposal rate has not crossed 50% in any of the last five years.
At the beginning of 2020, there were 1217 cases pending with the police from the previous year. This is higher than in any of the years between 2016 & 2020. As only 1075 were disposed in 2020 and 1804 new cases were added, the pendency by the end of 2020 went up to 1944.
By the end of 2016, the pendency of these cases was nearly 57%, which improved to 51.1% by the end of 2017. However, over the three years (2018 to 2020), there is a considerable increase in pendency. It crossed 60% by the end of 2019 and was 64.2% by the end of 2020.
During the same period, the disposal rate of the police fell from 43% in 2016 to 35.5% in 2020.
During 2016-20, 59% of the Final Report filed cases were closed due to lack of Insufficient evidence
The disposal of a case by the police is either by filing the final report and closing the case (due to lack of evidence and other causes) or by filing a charge sheet in the court so that the trial can continue. Data for the last five years i.e., 2016-20 indicates that the proportion of cases in which a charge sheet is filed has increased.
Chargesheeting percentage is the number of cases charge-sheeted out of the total cases disposed by the police in a particular year. In 2016, it was 65.4% which increased to 72.4% in 2020. A considerable increase was observed in 2020. Of the 1075 cases disposed by the police in 2020, a charge sheet was filed in 778 cases. In 2019, this was 540 out of 805 disposed cases.
Police file a final report when the investigation is complete at their end and where they are unable to file a Chargesheet against the accused. The number of such cases in 2020 was 292, more than twice of 141 in 2016. However, the proportion of the cases where a final report is filed by police (of the disposed cases) fell from 33.6% in 2016 to 27% in 2020.
During the five-year period of 2016 to 2020, a total of 1195 cases were closed by the police by filing a final report. Of these, 706 cases i.e., around 59% of the cases were closed by the police due to lack of evidence. Over the five-year period, the proportion of such cases among the final report filed cases fell slightly from 60.3% in 2016 to 58.2% in 2020. In comparison, across all IPC crimes, 68% of the final report cases are closed due to a lack of evidence in 2020. However, this percentage is skewed to a large extent due to the cases related to theft & burglary.
93% of the cases are pending trial in the courts by the end of 2020
The backlog of cases in courts relating to IPC Section 153A has been increasing year on year. By the end of 2016, a total of 903 cases were pending trial in courts. This number increased to 2132 by the end of 2019 and further increased to 2736 by the end of 2020.
The increase in the number of cases pending trial in the courts can be attributed to an extent to the increase in the number of cases in which the police filed a charge sheet and sent them to court for trial. The lower rate of disposal is another major reason for an increase in pendency. The number of cases disposed by the courts increased from 89 in 2016 to 200 in 2020, but the proportion of the cases disposed of the cases up for trial in a particular year has reduced over the years. From around 9% in 2016, the court disposal rate fell to about 6.8% in 2020.
Between 2016 & 2020, the Conviction rate is only around 20%
Of all the cases that were disposed of by the courts, the majority are those in which the trial is complete. During the period of 2016 to 2020, 50 were disposed without trial and the trials were completed in 694 cases. In all, a total of 744 cases were disposed by the courts during these five years.
In most of the cases where the trial is complete, the accused were either discharged or acquitted. Out of the 694 cases in which the trial is complete between 2016 & 2020, the accused were either discharged/acquitted in 559 cases and only 136 i.e., around 20% resulted in a conviction.
However, the yearly trend in the conviction rate is not consistent. In 2016, only 15.3% of the cases ended up in conviction, which has increased to 26.4% in 2019. However, it again fell to 20.4% in 2020.
As per NCRB’s data, out of the 2869 cases pending under the head “Offences promoting enmity between different groups”, 2054 cases are pending trial for more than a year.
Low conviction rates are a cause for concern in cases relating to hate speech
The conviction rate of only around 20% in ‘hate speech’ cases in the year 2020 is almost 1/3rd of the conviction rate of all cognizable IPC crimes. In other words, the conviction rate of ‘hate speech’ related cases is among the lowest of all IPC crimes.
The data on the disposal of cases relating to Section 153A by the police & courts highlights the following broad trends.
- A high proportion of cases closed by the police were due to a lack of evidence.
- Even among the cases in which the trial was complete, the acquittals were four times the convictions.
- The cases are pending in the courts for a relatively longer duration.
In a recent case relating to the Delhi Riots in 2020, the Supreme Court had to direct and give a deadline to the Delhi HC, to decide on the allegations of hate speech against a few politicians. This is an example in which the highest court of the land had to intervene to speed up the trial even to ensure that a case is filed. There could be hundreds of such instances where the police did not file a case.
In another case related to the same Delhi Riots of 2020, the Delhi high court had to reprimand the Police for not providing evidence even after one year of the arrests. In another case relating to sloganeering near Jantar Mantar, where the case was booked under Section 153A, the court rejected bail citing that there is clear evidence of speech & sloganeering against a community, but is yet to complete the trial.
In multiple other instances, courts at various levels had to pull up the police for not submitting adequate evidence or for inordinate delay.
One of the major challenges in this regard is the differentiations of Hate speech from Freedom of Speech. The Supreme Court highlights this in its judgment related to the Amish Devgan vs. Union of India & Ors.
Data of the last five years highlights multiple challenges as far as cases related to ‘hate speech’ are considered. From collection of evidence to a proper trial, there entire process is riddled with challenges in the absence of a specific law that addresses ‘hate speech’.