Long arm of the law gets shorter

The National, Tuesday July 12th, 2016

THE so-called long arm of the law is seemingly getting shorter in the Papua New Guinea justice system.
And the courts are blaming the police for a serious breakdown in the prosecution process.
While crime suspects are usually presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law, many of them are getting off the hook earlier without having to face the “full force of the law”.
It seems that police are quick to make arrests and slap charges on suspects but do little or nothing thereafter, which result in many cases being thrown out by the courts.
The latest criticism comes from Kundiawa District Court senior magistrate Bill Noki who described the inability of police to prosecute criminal cases as a waste of time and a matter of serious concern.
Noki was highly critical of the police after dismissing a criminal case against former chief executive officer of the Sinasina-Yongumugl district Bal Numapo for lack of police prosecution files.
“It has taken the police prosecution seven months and the file is not yet ready. They are supposed to complete the preparation of files within a period of three months as required under section 37 of the constitution.”
Noki echoed similar criticisms by other senior magistrates, including Cosmar Bidar who recently lambasted police for their inefficiency, unreliability or inability to present cases in time or in a proper manner.
Bidar was incensed that courts in the National Capital District, including his Waigani Committal Court, continued to dismiss three to five cases every week for want of proper police prosecution.
It is atrocious that numerous criminal cases continue to be thrown out by the courts around the country due to police files not being ready, lost or for lack of evidence.
If this trend is allowed to continue, our justice system will become a mockery among countries with similar systems.
Criminals and those with criminal intentions will no longer fear the law because there is a greater chance of their cases being dismissed by the courts for lack of police prosecution.
The courts have expressed their grave concerns and the onus is now on the police hierarchy to make drastic improvements to the performance of its prosecutors.
They will need to undergo specialised training to upgrade their skills and knowledge. They will also need to change their attitude towards their jobs.
The planned upgrading of the Bomana Police College to academy status with an extended 18-month training course is indeed a step in the right direction for police personnel such as prosecutors.
Indeed, the lack of professionalism in the police force is a major hindrance to law enforcement in this country.
While the majority of the police force is loyal and dedicated to their work as protectors of the law, there are a few rogue cops who continue to defy the law and  abuse their role, mostly for self-gain.
Some of them can be located at roadblocks along the Hiritano Highway in Central province where they collect fees from public motor vehicle (PMV) operators to allow them to continue their journey.
Last Friday, a journalist travelling in a PMV bus to Kerema witnessed the paying of fees by the driver to uniformed policemen in an unmarked vehicle at the Laloki River bridge roadblock.
The driver later explained to the journalist that the payment ensured the bus passed through the roadblock without any hiccups. He paid another fees to rogue cops at the next roadblock between Laloki and Brown River bridge.
We queried Assistant Police Commissioner Central/NCD Sylvester Kalaut about this fee yesterday and this was his response: “Policemen are not supposed to set up roadblocks and collect money from motorists.”
Kalaut has urged motorists and people travelling along the Hiritano Highway to report policemen who set up roadblocks and collect fees.
This is easier said than done but the police commander needs to take some firm measures to stop these rogue cops from harassing and collecting fees from motorists, especially PMV operators, at roadblocks along the highway.
The current public perception of the police force is unfavourable because of illegal activities by some of its personnel and needs to be changed for the betterment of the force and the country.