Early this month, I walked into the office of the DPP on the 12th floor to oblige to an appointment. As I interacted with his personal assistant, news soon came on at the top of the hour on one of the local TV channels (There was a TV in the office). I did not like what I saw.
It is disturbing to notice that up to date, our police still brazenly conduct perp walk. The act of the police alerting the fourth estate about arrests or pending arrests so they can come with cameras to capture the identities of suspects. The immediate news story was of an operation by security forces to capture alleged criminal suspects. This of course, was not a fast.
The media was so organised to capture all the proceedings on camera as the “murderers” were being bundled on the police trucks. The media even had the space and audacity to interview a couple of the arrested suspects before a police officer heading the operation jubilantly gave his interview. The “killers” had been captured. Police is working.
It is on record that such acts violate the individual rights of the suspects and by a considerable degree, threaten the case for the complainant. This is no conundrum. It is very clear in the universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and other regional legal instruments such as the American Convention on Human Rights, Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and the European Convention on Human Rights. Nationally, the constitution is very distinct.
It plainly is an affront to the non-derogable right to the presumption of innocence which is a core tenet to the right to a fair hearing.
Note presumption and not assumption.
An assumption depends on prevailing circumstances to be considered correct. A presumption is conclusive regardless of circumstances unless factual preponderance body of evidence so produced, rebuts it.
The right to a presumption of innocence is an ancient fundamental right embodied in the systems of criminal justice. It directly sways how suspects are treated from the time of arrest, through investigations to the conclusion of the trial or appeal. It provides the foundation to rights such as bail and police bond. Basically, it guards against commission of more or even worse violations. Our ill, corrupt systems today seem to work to eviscerate the spirit of many of these paradigms.
This abusive act further soils reputations even when one is yet to be formally charged in a court of law. Basically, we have a regrettable scenario where the police arrests, tries suspects in the media & successfully convicts all of them in the court of public opinion. In all this illegality, the media becomes an accomplice.
Judges and human rights advocates have warned about this but it still thrives, albeit, unabated.
But why does the practice continue?
There is little otherwise you can expect from a police which certainly finds it conducive to showcase their work to cover up all the ills plaguing the force. That is like manna to any police Public Relations department.
The media is a profit-oriented industry; always news-hungry and the reason to sieve what is professionally not right is always a delicate act. Other members from the editorial room raise the flag of right to a free press. But perhaps it might do them some good to interrogate the Leveson Inquiry reports to avoid being caught in similar or worse drama.
Be it as it may, perp walks have continued to eat into the public confidence of the judiciary in addition to violating rights of the suspects.
When you have a police force conniving with the media to convict a suspect in a court of public opinion, you don’t need rocket science to realize that the consequence is that judiciary will find itself in the crosshairs of the wrath of sections of emotional and legally ignorant public in the event that the accused is set free even on legally justifiable reasons.
This then starts to sound like mob justice.
It is time for our Judiciary to stop such violations by putting the prosecution/police to task whenever such incidences are raised during these trials. To not do that amounts to our temples of justice condoning an illegality. I know, the human rights advocates are and will continue to do their part to protect the personal liberties of all, irrespective.