The arrest of former finance minister P Chidambaram has reopened the debate on the role of politics in criminal proceedings. And new research from Indian states suggests that politics does influence the law with politicians in power receiving differential treatment in courts.

Rubén Poblete-Cazenave from the University College London analyzes if members of state legislative assemblies (MLA’s) in India have an unfair advantage in criminal trials. Using election results between 2004 and 2017, he compares the outcomes of pending criminal cases of candidates who win elections with those who lose. For data on criminal cases, he uses information compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch based on affidavits filed by candidates before the election.

He finds that holding office, on its own, does not influence legal proceedings. However, if the MLA belongs to the ruling party, they are 17% more likely to have their cases disposed of without a conviction. In contrast, cases of MLAs from opposition parties take more time to be resolved and are 15% less likely to be disposed of without conviction.

He suggests that MLAs manipulate the legal system through threats and political intimidation. Specifically, they can interfere in the transfers, appointments and promotions of judicial officers. However, he argues that this political pressure is most effective when dealing with less serious criminal cases and in states with low judicial strength.

According to the author, a politicized judicial system has wide-reaching consequences for democracy as it compromises the independence of the judiciary, facilitates corruption, hinders growth and reinforces a vicious cycle of dishonest leaders entering politics.

Also read: Crime and Punishment: Do politicians in power receive special treatment in courts? Evidence from India

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