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What Are You Accused of? Find Out Online

by Prasad Krishna last modified Apr 01, 2011 04:48 PM
Starting Tuesday, police authorities in the Indian capital will make many crime reports, also known as First Information Reports, publicly accessible from its Web site. The report can be attained by entering details such as the name of the accused or victim and also the area where the crime took place. So far, no crime reports have been posted on the Web site.
What Are You Accused of? Find Out Online

The report can be attained by entering details such as the name of the accused or victim and also the area where the crime took place.

The step is meant to help people who have been accused of a crime, and who aren’t able to find out from police—or who are perhaps reluctant to approach a police station—find out what exactly they’re supposed to have done. 

“In case a police officer refuses to reveal the First Information Report, the accused can get a copy online and defend himself,” Rajan Bhagat, Delhi police spokesman told India Real Time Tuesday.

After police register a crime report, they’re supposed to carry out an investigation and then decide whether or not to bring charges.

Mr. Bhagat said the crime reports were being put online to comply with a 35-page Delhi High Court order on December 6.

“The liberty of an individual is inextricably linked with his right to be aware how he has been booked under law and on what allegations,” the court said at the time in an order that quotes Cuban revolutionary José Martí

Mr. Bhagat said the software for uploading the FIRs has been installed at all police stations across the capital. The crime report is supposed to be made available online within 24 hours after a crime is registered.

Depending on whether the crime reports are searchable or not, and if people other than those named in the reports can access them, they could also prove useful for analyzing crime patterns in the city.

Of course, there exists some ambiguity in the new process, including how many crime reports will actually end up being uploaded online.

Crime reports for offences categorized as “sensitive” need not be uploaded. These include issues of terrorist acts, crimes relating to national security, rape, murder, kidnapping for ransom and “cases in which desperate gangsters are involved and there is the danger of witnesses or the complainant being intimidated,” the court order said.

“We cannot reveal the identity of serious criminals; this can hamper the investigation process,” said Mr. Bhagat, adding that the decision for a crime report not to be uploaded must be made by a senior police officer together with a local magistrate from the area where the crime was committed.

Some legal experts aren’t happy about the “selective” airing of information by the Delhi police.

“The service would be a complete failure,” said Pinaki Misra, senior counsel at the Delhi High Court.

Mr. Misra said the First Information Report is a public document–the first step towards registering criminal activity–and it should be freely accessible.

“There’s no reason why such information should be deemed confidential and selectively uploaded,” he said.

But others said there was good reason to avoid making a crime report public in some cases, such as to protect the identity of victims of sexual crimes, or even to protect suspects in cases where crimes could instigate violence against them.

Sunil Abraham, executive director at the Center for Internet and Society, a think-tank based in Bangalore, said the Delhi police’s new initiative was “a positive step with necessary safeguards.”

He added that the disclosure of too much information by police or other investigating agencies can sometimes lead to incidents of “mob justice,” pointing to recent occasions where bystanders have attacked people involved in highly publicized cases at their court appearances.

“The onus now is on the Delhi police as to how and what they put it in actual practice,” Mr. Abraham said.

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ASPI-CIS Partnership


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