Miscarriage of justice
Mistakes are bound to occur in any system and Criminal Justice System is no exception. There are instances, when factually guilty escaped conviction and the innocent is judged falsely. The errors committed by the police are considered as the errors of criminal justice system and viewed as ‘miscarriage of justice’.
The intentional or unintentional mistakes committed by police during an investigation have devastating consequences not only on the individuals but take a huge toll on society due to wrongful convictions. These errors are also affecting the attitudes and efficiency of practitioners, the beliefs and policies of politicians and particularly the public confidence in the administration of justice. No doubt, the expression of ‘miscarriage of justice’ lacks an agreed definition and can vary in meaning depending on the context in which it is used. But, is it acceptable that the errors of police during apprehension, identification and while collection of evidence may be tagged as ‘miscarriage of justice’? How far judiciary is responsible for the mistakes committed by the police. The mistakes committed by a single organ of criminal justice system i.e. police could be attributed to the whole justice system.
Furthermore, it has to be understood that the term ‘miscarriage of justice’ is always dependent upon individuals’ perceptions, perspectives and the circumstances in which the phrase is used. It is pertinent to mention that the word ‘miscarriage’ has been derived from Plato, whose mother was said to be a midwife. But generally, the term suggests that it’s a failure to reach the end goal of ‘justice’.
The process of justice is based on three major components, the police, the judiciary and the corrections. The police are considered as the gateway of criminal justice system involved in dealing with perpetrators, victims and witnesses of crime. Here, miscarriages can occur not only in situations where the police have done the wrong thing, but there may be a situation where they have not done enough/anything in response to victimization. The deliberate or unintentional mistake or failure on the part of police are often seen and reported in failure to investigate crimes, in the identification of offenders, and a half-hearted or lethargic approach in pressing charges, and a failure to mount a robust prosecution case.
Such attitude on the part of police often resulted in the failure to hold offenders accountable and the whole criminal justice system have become questionable due to the failure of police. Miscarriages of justice can also include failure to support, and poor treatment of, victims of crime/their families through for example, neglecting to inform them of developments in their case. This can lead to secondary victimization of an individual. Thus, “miscarriages” may also be defined as failures on the part of the CJS and peripheral agencies, to recognize, intervene and safeguard the public from ‘known’ risks or dangerous individuals. Such miscarriages may lead to falling public confidence in the CJS and to individuals being less willing to engage with it. In addition to acknowledging high-profile wrongful convictions, any definition of a miscarriage of justice must also recognize the rather commonplace wrongful convictions obtained in lower courts and regularly over-turned in the Court of Appeal.
However, the incidents of “miscarriage of justice” could have positive impacts if taken and understood as ‘lessons to be learnt’. These incidents provide us a detailed picture of what went wrong in particular cases. The research has revealed that most of these lessons relate to the police investigative process and potential weaknesses of that process and in helping to explain particular phenomena, such as why individuals might falsely confess. There is a broad consensus that by improving the investigative processes we could achieve a clear reduction in the incidences of “miscarriage of justice” and could reduce the burden of blame on the other parts of the criminal justice system.