12:00 AM, October 13, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 13, 2012

Straight Line

Meaningful and effective investigation

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Muhammad Nurul Huda

In the wake of the savage attack on the Buddhist community in Cox's Bazar and the interesting development in the much publicised journalist couple murder case, the imperative of meaningful and effective investigation assumes special significance. We are witnessing justifiable exhortations to the custodians of law to look professionally and impartially at all criminal incidents that quite naturally have a bearing on the polity.
The media bemoans the post-incident trading of rhetoric and blame process wherein it suspects that the casualty is the investigation, as it is likely to begin on a wrong foot leading to the real culprits going scot-free. Earnest appeal has been made to get to the bottom of the dastardly and cowardly attacks with a view to unearthing the truth and punishing the culprits.
In view of the above scenario it is worth reminding that investigation swayed by high emotion and the immediacy of the incident would not serve any interest; least of all that of the prosecution for which the state is responsible. One needs to know that in all criminal investigations the state is actually the complainant. The onerous responsibility cannot be discharged lightly because in the ultimate process the investigator will be all alone to withstand the test of rigorous scrutiny by the court wherein cold facts and hard evidence will matter in deciding the culpability.
The most obvious function of the investigator is to locate the persons who have committed the crimes, by proper investigation, collect the evidence available against them, to arrest such persons and to bring them to the courts to be dealt with according to law. The powers of arrest, searches etc granted to the investigators are for this purpose only and are regulated by law. Hurried actions, therefore, carry the risk of prejudicing the due diligence expected of the investigator.
Investigation of an offence is the field exclusively reserved for the executive through the police department, the superintendence over which vests in the government. When the police have located their man they put him before the court and the court adjudges the guilt of the man placed before it on the basis of evidence adduced. The whole process is regular and precludes any arbitrary action by the executive. Hurried investigation is likely to influence dispassionate collection of evidence, thereby vitiating the statutory process.
The pressures consequent upon the murder of two media persons are enormous and it is highly likely in a charged situation that the investigator may start with a preconceived notion. The danger is that such notion may lead the investigator on a wrong track altogether. Additionally, often the most zealous investigator, perhaps the most interested and honest in work, is most apt to be led by it.
Ideally, one must start the investigation with an open mind, study the situation for oneself and then after he has accosted the witnesses, seen things for himself, a person can form an idea of the whole thing. Hurried investigation may influence one to start with a notion, "so and so must have done it," and thus one is apt to get astray from the real mark.
Certainly a mind revolves over many theories when one starts on the investigation but one theory can be as good as the other. At the very outset a point may be ascertained on which one feels one can rely on. An opinion is formed which cannot be got rid of. It so happens then that after such formation the details of the case are no longer studied with freedom of mind. Avoidance of such study becomes strongly likely in hurried investigation.
Beyond the statutory and administrative stipulations our citizens need to know why our investigating outfit has to live with the double stigma of being partisan and inefficient. One may ask as to why our national level political leaders openly impute motives on the part of our investigators and cast doubt on their integrity? Who has failed whom? Have political leaders encouraged and abetted the malfeasance of the investigators?
Viewed from another angle, are we a victim of misplaced priorities owing to the follies of myopic policymakers and malevolent professionals? In misplaced exuberance, have we extolled the benefits of the so-called crossfire to the detriment of cultivating a scientific culture in law enforcement? These are queries that need to be pondered in serious earnest.
Now may be the time when we must know why investigative efficiency of the police has deteriorated over the years and whether such efficiency can be regained in isolation without setting the expected organisational goal of the police. It may also be appropriate now to know the pattern of resource allocation for increasing the professional competence of investigative outfits. We may have to know if there is a lack of proper emphasis in fixing priorities and deciding the core functions of police in a democratic society like ours.
There is a feeling that the cumulative neglect towards increasing the investigative efficiency over the last decade has brought us to a situation where at times we had to uncomfortably witness external agencies dealing with matters on our soil in which we may at best seek expert opinion only.
Purchasing lethal weapons may serve inadequately explained goals but investigation has to be scientific and level-headed to prove equal to the stress following an incident and credible enough to withstand the subsequent test of rigorous scrutiny in the court of law.
Experienced observers are of the view that the investigating agencies may remain inactive and incapacitated until the political authorities decide to treat the criminal violence as a purely criminal phenomenon and desist from interfering in the investigative process. Immediate actions to secure the place of occurrence for preservation of physical evidence will not follow if the investigators remain in a state of bewilderment following the enormity of the incident. Institution capacity building, insofar as it relates to modern scientific investigation, is yet to draw priority attention.
If we are not willing to forsake one of the primary state functions we cannot lose any further time in modernising our investigative outfit. Must we not realise that soliciting external investigation agency's help in our criminal investigation on our soil amounts to a disgraceful admission of our operational and administrative inefficiency?
In fact, what we need to plug the gaps in criminal investigation is some modest investment on capital machineries and training. However, equipping the investigators will not serve the purpose if investigation does not become the unaffected and unfettered jurisdiction of the investigator. The inaction and the resultant incapacity characterising each incident of serious violence hangs heavy on the national scene and is giving rise to mounting concern. The need, therefore, is to empower the investigators by lawful directives.
The question of the sincerity of the political authority is very significant. The required sincerity can be proved through concrete actions like proper registration of the case, energising the intelligence network for proper apprehension, collection of material, physical and circumstantial evidence, effective laboratory testing and finally expeditious investigation. All these can be made possible if the political executives show adequate determination and agree to go by the book.
The field executives concerning the criminal investigation have the ability and competence to withstand the pressures of sustained investigation and present a legally tenable charge-sheet. The rest would be a matter for the law courts to decide. After all, the booking of perpetrators is possible by working through the existing criminal intelligence network. If in the past we have been able to detect clueless murder cases there is no reason to think that the same cannot be done now.

The writer is a columnist for The Daily Star.

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