In 2007, a villager was killed as two groups clashed over the theft of a cow in Companiganj upazila of Sylhet. It took one year to complete the investigation of the murder case. Another seven years was taken to finish the trial. The pursuit of delayed justice resulted in nothing; in the verdict delivered in 2015, no one was punished.
This is just one example of the 239 judgments of as many murder cases that the Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) researched to find reasons behind acquittal of accused in murder cases.
The judgments studied were delivered in Sylhet in 2015 and Chittagong, Rangpur, Barisal, Mymensingh, Faridpur, Bogra and Khulna in 2016.
The Daily Star obtained a copy of the research findings which showed that more than 51 percent of the cases saw no conviction.
Sloppy investigations and medical reports, improper recording of confessional statements by magistrates and out-of-court settlements with prosecution witnesses, led to the acquittal of accused in 111 murder cases, the report stated.
“The honourable judges pointed out some of the mistakes in the judgments but didn't order any action against the police, investigation officer or any others responsible for them,” the PBI said in the report.
It cited loopholes in the investigation and in the way the prosecution presented their arguments in court.
In one instance, the allegations against an accused in a 2004 murder case filed with Kotwali Police Station, Chittagong, had been called into question in court because the magistrate didn't certify whether the confessional statement was voluntary and true. The defence drew the court's attention to the fact that the statement had not been signed in all designated places by the magistrate.
The accused in four cases were acquitted due to such incompetence. A court said the magistrate responsible might have made the error “due to his busy schedule” but didn't ask the authority to take action against him.
In another case, an accused was caught red-handed with a gun by local people, but the investigation officer (IO) failed to mention whether the gun was loaded at the time.
The report said mistakes were also made in compiling lists of prosecution witnesses as well. The children and wife of a murder victim had been kept out of the list in a case. There were neutral witnesses who had been present at the place of occurrence when the murder took place but the IO in the charge sheet didn't mention any of them as witnesses.
There was also inconsistent description of the murder weapon in the post-mortem report and the First Information Report in a case. The IO failed to present evidence and witnesses.
Many cases lost their validity for faulty post-mortem reports. In one case, the forensic expert who conducted the autopsy didn't mention if it was a suicide or murder. Asphyxia was noted as the cause of death, which could point towards either murder or suicide.
Apart from these reasons, courts had to discharge the accused in 45 cases because the witnesses had been tampered with, and so the allegations could not be proven using their “influenced” testimonies.
Witness tampering may happen when a trial takes too long, said Mostofa Kamal, special superintendent of the PBI. As time passes, the complainant and witnesses lose confidence in the judicial process, and they are willing to go for out-of-court settlements with the accused.
The PBI suggested quick trials so that perpetrators don't get away with committing crimes.
It observed that some cases took as many as 21 years to get to the end of the trial, and the accused took advantage of the lengthy procedure to influence the outcome.
Police and investigators should be trained on a regular basis and should face action for their mistakes, the PBI report said. Moreover, the failure of IOs to appear in court to testify and to bring witnesses to court should be addressed.
According to the report, the IO of a case had not appeared in court at all, and in four other cases the IOs failed to bring adequate number of witnesses to court.
But the irony is that there wasn't a single order from the respective courts asking for action against the officials responsible -- be it the IO, medical officer or magistrate.
“But it was [action against them] necessary,” the PBI said in the report, adding that it was a significant step if the nation wants to come out of its culture of impunity.