Mauritius Times 60 Years Ago – Justice and the Police

While the Police are still in the news, we think it would be fit to deal with their work in the field of justice.

It has become clear to everybody from the debates on Hon Bissoondoyal’s motion that the Police have a great part to play in the administration of justice.

Such being the case, we want to emphasize that unless the public have unshaken confidence in the police, justice will not command the admiration and respect of one and all.

It is the duty of the Police to set the judicial machine into motion: they make the necessary enquiries and in most cases they themselves prosecute, in the other cases, the Parquet has to act on their enquiries. One can easily imagine what a heavy burden lies on the shoulders of the Police by considering the fact that it is as dangerous to let a criminal go unpunished as it is to punish an innocent man.

The task of the Police is as delicate as it is heavy. There is bound to be dissatisfaction if it appears that the Police do not consider all citizens to be equal before the law. Justice, it must be remembered, must not only be done but it must also appear to be done. If that man in the street feels that he is treated in one way and the man in the mansion is treated in quite a different way, how can he have faith in law and law courts? And will he not be tempted to take the law into his own hands?

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To show the bad influence that the Police can exercise on the administration of justice, we propose to deal with what is happening in the Magistrates’ Courts in England.

Some time ago the Daily Mirror appointed a panel of experts to make a survey of justice in England. The panel has published its report which is entitled; “The Daily Mirror Spotlight on Justice”. The experts had to investigate into: 1. The congestion of the High Court. 2. Legal Aid, and 3. Magistrates’ Courts.

The report is a very interesting and thought-provoking piece of work. We quote below a few lines from it. They are from the section dealing with the influence of the Police on Magistrates’ Courts.

1.     Officially they are Magistrates’ Courts. To the average man and woman, they are “Police Courts”… The Police “run” the courts. They guard the doors, marshal the public, boss “defendants” … – “Stand up”, “Take your hands out of your pockets” – and generally create the impression that they are in charge.

2.     Especially in small towns and rural areas, the attitude if “the police say it, it must be right” is strong. In too many Magistrates’ Courts any defendant who suggests that the police is mistaken is asking for trouble.

3.     The average policeman regards the dismissal of a case he has brought to court as a personal reflection and a personal set-back. In the minds of many constables, especially young ones, the way to promotion is through securing convictions in the courts.

To put an end to the bad influence of the Police on justice, the experts are convinced that the present system of senior police officers prosecuting in Magistrates’ Courts in England and Wales should be abolished and they consider that the Scottish System of a procurator fiscal should be extended to all Magistrates’ Courts.

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If such things as quoted above can happen in England, should we not be on our guard in Mauritius?

A Magistrates’ Court is like a District Court with the difference, however, that the magistrates in England are laymen and here they are qualified people. Our District Courts, just as Magistrates’ Courts in England, do the bulk of the judicial work. They are the courts to which the general public look up to have wrongs redressed and offences punished. If the common man finds that the District Courts are not under the influence of the Police, he will be disposed to regard them as sanctuaries of Justice.

The attitude of “the police say it, it must be right”, will not, we hope, take root in our courts. That attitude can but deny the accused from getting a fair trial.

If the average policeman in England is interested in securing convictions instead of presenting the facts fairly and impartially, his local counterpart will do well to meditate on the sin attached to such a conduct when he is inclined to act in the same manner.

The Police may prosecute as long as they do not prosecute in such a way as to create the impression that they persecute. They can keep their heads high for ever by honouring the best elements of judicial process — fairness and objectivity.

To conclude, we hope that justice entrusted to the Police will always prove to be in safe keeping.

* Published in print edition on 10 June 2016

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