Is it unsafe to wait to prosecute ?

While owing to the implication of the statutes and guidelines of the courts there are set limitation period within which one must bring his civil claim to the court, the scope for criminal proceedings is open ended. The reason is undoubtedly the severity of the offence against the state as opposed to personal conflicts that goes beyond the monetary damage. Can you then just wait forever and wake up one sunny morning to sue your accused? Does not sound realistic. In fact, a delay of few days and hours can also be crucial and that is what is placed under the microscope today.
Not all delays are adverse for the prosecution. For instance, delay caused by the defendant to tamper the proceedings shall not effect the court. On the contrary, when the alleged delay is caused due to the unconscionable inefficiency of the prosecution or where it results in prejudice of the defendant, the court may consider it as abuse of process.
The undue delay may render the chances of fair trial impossible (e.g. unavailability of evidence, washed memory of the witnesses, etc.) and most importantly, it may be a tool of fabrication.
However, even the courts understand that not always it is practicable for the victim to act expeditiously. Comprehension of the offence and situation,, time taken for reporting the offence or making a complaint, physical and emotional inhibition of the complainant, consultation with experts and advocates, nature and difficulty of offences and extracting required evidence can amount to innocent delays on the part of the prosecutor. Nevertheless, one must keep some “instances” in mind and act. The date and time of the occurrence, the reaction period, visit to medical assistance or police station, recovery period and coming before the judge; it all must correspond to prove the genuinity of the offence. The necessity to act promptly actually varies from case to case upon close and careful consideration of the relevant circumstances.
It may be very likely that the delay is relatively slight but the prejudice to the defendant is serious and vice versa. The severe the offence the faster it is expected you to act and therefore, undue delay to prosecute may result in dismissal by the court. The principle is primarily based on “justice within reasonable period of time” that benefits both the prosecutor (genuine complainant) and the defendant as the evidence comes fresh and it is presumed to give minimum scope for fabrication.
So to wrap up, if you are a victim of a crime and you do not wish to forsake it, step forward as early as possible to receive proper justice and allow the other person to tell his part. Your indecision or dishonest intention may well be caught by the decision-makers for the time gap with no excusable cause. If this is not maintained, punishment maybe hanging over a defendant indefinitely or be left with defences which are tampered/ forgotten.
In case of unavoidable delays, prepare yourself with explanation that is not a deliberate attempt to interfere with the fair trial. Remember that even in the landmark case of assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, one of the main defence was to question the credibility and reliability of the witness statements due to the great lapse to time although it did not succeed for the exceptional circumstances of the case.
Sohana Chowdhury
(Barrister-at-Law; Lincoln’s Inn)
Legal Associate
Legal Solutions