Amidst the dismal state of affairs regarding the Criminal Justice System of Pakistan, it ordinarily, takes years for a criminal proceeding to get disposed of. Delay in litigation of criminal cases, let alone civil suits, has become enormous. The Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter PPC), and other laws, which define offences and fix punishments (substantive criminal law), the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (hereinafter CrPC), and other adjective laws including the Law of Evidence (hereinafter LoE), are classical examples of the British legacy.
Criminal Justice System of Pakistan is built upon three main pillars: investigation and apprehension of the accused by the police (investigation agency), prosecution (prosecutors/state attorneys), and judiciary (magistrates and judges). These organs are structurally interdependent and can’t guarantee efficacious results unless they work in tandem with one other.
The criminal justice system starts from registration of an FIR (First Information Report) under section 154 of the CrPC in cognizable offences only; perhaps a herculean task because of the sole discretion of SHO (Station House Officer), whose palm needs grease in order to set the case in motion. If registration of FIR is denied, the aggrieved applicant can move a competent court of law under section 22-A of CrPC for registration of the case. Sections 154 to 173 of the CrPC deal with the investigation process. It is worth mentioning here that an investigation officer (IO) holds authority under section 169 of CrPC to discharge the accused of the allegations levelled against him. The Section reads: “If, upon an investigation under this Chapter, it appears to the officer in charge of the police station that there is not sufficient, evidence or reasonable ground of suspicion to justify the forwarding of the accused to a Magistrate, such officer shall, if such person is in custody, release him on his executing a bond, with or without sureties, as such officer may direct, to appear, if and when so required, before a Magistrate empowered to take cognizance of the offence on a police report, and to try the accused or commit him for trial.”
Unfortunately, this power has not been effectively exercised owing to the distrust of the organs on one another. An IO is required to submit a challan under section 173 of CrPC (Charge-sheet) within two weeks of the report of the crime. It is highly unlikely that an IO, which usually is an Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI), Sub-Inspector (SI) or Inspector of Police (IP) having dozens of cases under investigation, will vigorously collect the evidence, accrue independent witnesses, and produce sufficient grounds to frame charges for prosecution against the accused. It has been noticed quite often that IOs lack requisite training, modern techniques of collecting evidence, knowledge of forensic policing, and ability to defend contents of investigation owing to low-profile education. All along, such lacunas help criminals go Scott-free thus incurring social and legal costs.
The case study of Quetta city amply testifies the sorry state of affairs. The population of the Quetta city—the capital of Balochistan—is estimated to be approximately 1,140,000 living in a congested area of 2,656 square kilometres. The sanctioned strength of the Capital City Police, as the website of Balochistan Police contains, is as under;
The government of Balochistan has established 24 police stations in Quetta. It is perplexing as to how could 12 Judicial Magistrates and 7 Additional District and Sessions Judges dispense speedy justice to more than 1.2 million people in a region with high crime ratio? It has been reported that in 2015, Balochistan police witnessed 8916 crime reports out of which 4089 FIRs were registered in Quetta only.
In addition, flawed investigative techniques and production of independent witnesses thereafter before Honourable Judges by police investigators; the endless adjournments sought by lawyers; and embarrassing behaviour with IOs in courts often result into a mayhem. It would be unfair to point finger at police alone for Pakistan’s tottering criminal justice system. Some manifest instances corroborate this argument. For instance, police are paid meager salaries which do not cover the expenses of an average person, up-to-date investigative techniques are solely lacking; standards for collection of evidence are arduous; dozens of cases are given to a single IO without any incentive or reward; expenses incurred on investigation are borne by the officer involved; no security is provided to IOs especially to those inspecting sectarian and terrorist outfits; submission of Challan within 14 days is essential whatsoever the case may be; either a Murder, theft, robbery, bomb blast or target killing; so on and so forth.
Hence, the desperation among the masses is justified because it takes years for a single case to be disposed of; meanwhile the accused is left to languish in prison. To the great dismay of justice system, it has never been deliberated and discussed that in cases where prosecution fails to provide sufficient evidence against an accused, or for conviction of an accused, in the interim, the person spends three to four years in prison. Who will compensate him/her? Upon whom the responsibility shall be fixed on?
Unless the state opts for robust reforms in criminal justice system on urgent basis, the already-widened trust deficit among its constituents will not contract. Equally important, the criminals are not properly rehabilitated in prisons; hence after acquittal they would be a potential danger to the society. It is the need of the time that government in consultation with judiciary forms committees to deliberate on legislative reforms, sanctions more funds and deters the occurrence of crimes against society; by including police higher-ups, prosecutors, judges of the high court, prison department officials, Secretary Home and Tribal affairs, Secretary Law, legal advisers, Members of Bar associations and the provincial Law minister to remove the barriers in our way to inexpensive and expeditious justice.