A continuing poor conviction rate in terror trials has led the Maharashtra government to sanction a set of lawyers dedicated to cases filed by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) as requested by the agency. So far, prosecutors in ATS cases were appointed from a common pool of lawyers for the state.
“Central agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or the National Investigation Agency (NIA) have dedicated legal teams. The lawyers assist them from the very beginning of the case including pleading for police custody. However in the ATS, which is also a specialised agency to deal with terror related cases, the public prosecutors are roped in only when the cases reach the trial stage. With no proper legal guidance, the cases are not able to meet the scrutiny of the courts and we thereby fail to bag convictions,” said a senior ATS officer.
“Some legal requirements pertaining to evidence may slip from the mind of the investigating officer who is tied up with collection of evidence. A dedicated pool of lawyers guiding officers from the very beginning of the case will help the agency build a watertight case,” added the officer.
Recently, the ATS had written to the state government asking for such a separate set of public pleaders. The government agreed to the agency’s request last month. The ATS will now have four to five lawyers pleading only their cases.
The ATS currently has a conviction rate of a little over 20 per cent. “Also, being roped in after the investigation is complete, the lawyer is left with no option but to defend the case based on available evidence. His value addition may not be possible once a chargesheet is filed,” he added.
Earlier this week the Supreme court expressed its apprehensions on charging the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast accused Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Lt. Col Shrikant Purohit under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA). In 2008, the ATS had claimed that the blast was the handiwork of a right wing terror group.
Similarly, the agency has chargesheeted nine alleged SIMI men in the 2006 twin bomb blasts in Malegaon but the NIA, which took over the probe in 2011, claimed that the attack was carried out by Hindu extremists and chargesheeted four accused in the case. Both the chargesheets are now before a sessions court that will decide which chargesheet the trial should be based on.
Barring the 2010 Pune German Bakery bomb blast case, the agency has failed to secure a conviction in any of the other major terror cases. After the arrest of alleged IM leader Yasin Bhatkal and his accomplice Asadullah Akhtar alias Haddi, that case is now under a shadow of doubt too. The convict Himayat Baig has filed a petition in the Bombay High Court contesting the death sentence awarded by a Pune court.
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