Setting criminal law into motion or, in legal terms, registering an FIR in Pakistan is a daunting task, especially for the poor who have meagre resources.
Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1868 (CrPC) states that: “Every information relating to the commission of a cognisable offence if given orally to an officer-incharge of a police station, shall be reduced in writing by him or under his direction and be read over to the informant; and every such information, whether given in writing or reduced to writing as aforesaid, shall be signed by the person giving it, and the substance thereof shall be entered in a book to be kept by such officer in such form as the provincial government may prescribe in this behalf”.
A quick glance at this provision reveals that anyone may report a cognisable offence to the police, whether or not the person reporting the incident has any connection with the incident. The police officer is, in turn, bound to register the report in the form of an FIR. Police officers tend to misuse their position before and after an FIR has been registered. As a result, people are compelled to illegally gratify the police. The only legal option available to them in these circumstances is to approach the court. But approaching a court can be an expensive and cumbersome undertaking.
Pakistan’s elite often get away with committing heinous of crimes – such as robbery, theft, murder and rape – as they can use their wealth and connections to influence the local police. Registering an FIR should, in essence, make it easier for a victim to set the law into motion. Unfortunately, the process is often exploited by the wealthy to suppress the underprivileged. In developed countries like England, the situation is quite the opposite. It is easy to call the police and provide information about a crime. It is also a common practice and duty of the police to visit a person to record information in the form of a written statement.
A common challenge, among others, of registering multiple FIRs for the same offence was recently dealt with by a seven-member bench, headed by Justice Khosa, of the Supreme Court while deciding ‘Mst Sughran Bibi vs. The State’. Justice Khosa stated that: “No separate FIR is to be recorded for any new version of the same incident brought to the notice of the investigating officer during the investigation of the case”. It can be rightly said that this has been an astonishing step towards reforming our increasingly complex criminal justice system.
The bench addressed a fundamental issue that is confronted by the people of this country: the immediate arrest of a person nominated in the FIR. Justice Khosa held that: “Ordinarily no person has to be arrested straightaway only because he has been nominated as an accused person in an FIR…the arrest is to be deferred till such time that sufficient material or evidence becomes available on the record of investigation”.
As per the judgment, the police must adduce sufficient material and evidence before arresting any accused in the FIR. The factual scenario of how our police operates highlights the corruption and dishonesty embedded in our criminal justice system. The people suffer on a daily basis at the hands of the police officials. Implicating innocent people through the registration of fake FIRs for personal enmity is a common practice in Pakistan. The penalty for registering a fake FIR is hardly a deterrent as it is weak in nature. The government has proposed proportionate punishment if a fake FIR is registered. The bill has yet to receive a nod from the Senate.
The key aspects of the judgment pertain to Justice Khosa’s condemnation of the sweeping and pervasive remarks about police officials being unnecessary and uncharitable. This has raised the morale of police officials who are performing their duties diligently. State functionaries have always faced immense criticism from the superior courts of the country for a vast number of reasons and there have always been serious concerns over this matter in the government quarters. The encouraging remarks in the judgment have significantly raised the morale of civil bureaucracy in the system and the courts.
The judgment appears to be positive step towards revamping the criminal justice system in Pakistan and is expected to act as a guiding force for both the prosecution and the courts.
The writer is an advocate.