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November 20, 2017
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No space for equality

Opinion

November 20, 2017

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The incident of a girl who was forcibly stripped to and paraded through her village in DI Khan has principally unmasked our weak and fragile criminal justice system (CJS).
For the time being, let’s put aside questions about who is currently running the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and if the KP police are exemplary. Let’s ask only one question: in the state of Pakistan, do the poor and the rich get equal treatment in the eyes of the law? Does our criminal justice system – which comprises the police, the judiciary, prisons, the prosecution and the parole department – successfully delivering equal, cheap and affordable justice to all people regardless of their gender, religion, class and affiliation or vice versa?
We can observed this in our courts, where thousands of people file petitions under Section 22-A of the Criminal Procedure Code to request the court to direct the police to register an FIR. These petitions often reach the high court and the Supreme Court. We have hardly ever heard of police officers, who are duty-bound to register FIRs in every cognisable offence, being penalised on account of their lapses. The question is: can all Pakistani citizens afford to engage lawyers to represent them in the courtroom – even if it is to register FIRs.
Let’s assume an FIR was registered with no trouble. The question that then arises is whether our investigating officers are fully equipped with modern forensics and technologies to pursue these cases. Do they investigate every crime with absolute neutrality? Or, do they use a different yardstick for the rich and the poor or, for that matter, a separate benchmark for lawyers, journalists and political figure and the ordinary person. We have been far too busy making our police a combatant force. Has anyone ever asked about the basic duties and training requirements of a police force in civilised states?
Let’s assume that an FIR was registered with or without the court’s intervention and the

investigation was also completed by an honest police officer. Do people trust a public prosecutor or are they more inclined towards engage private lawyers? Still, our conviction rate in criminal cases is between five percent and 10 percent and is the lowest in the region. Does every Pakistani citizen manage to pay for a private counsel?
Another indispensable component of our criminal justice system is the judiciary. Are our courts so efficient and error-free that there is no room for improvement or has no one dared to optimistically comment on its performance?
Are the rich or the poor and, for that matter, senior and junior lawyers equally heard in a court of law? Are the cases registered by ordinary people and those who are comparatively more powerful expeditiously heard in the same manner? We should have an answer as to why it takes between 20 and 30 years for courts to reach a verdict and why there are around three million cases that are still pending in the courts?
Are ordinary people and our elite kept in the same cells in prison and provided the same facilities or are jails a place of rest for the rich? Can poor prisoners manage to obtain temporary release through parole or is this facility is only for powerful Pakistanis?
Incidents like the one that surfaced from DI Khan recently are not limited to a specific area. Honour crimes are committed almost everywhere in Pakistan, but only a few are brought to attention. There are some tribal areas where journalists are not allowed to report such incidents. In other instances, journalists have agreed not to report honour killings and domestic violence and tacitly protect these customs. However, the state has also ignored these incidents. Has the introduction of anti-honour killings legislation reduced or controlled such instances?
Pakistan should legislate in this matter at the earliest and ensure that every report is compulsorily registered. Complainants must be penalised for registering false reports. Investigators and the prosecution need professional training and must have forensics and equipment for evidence collection. The police force must be free from corruption and external interference by bringing the duty hours of officials and their remuneration at par with international standards. The prosecution should be trained to perform their role in order to curtail the custom of engaging private lawyers in every case.
Similarly, prison systems need an overhauled and the judiciary must play a vital role in this regard by making the process of obtaining bail more productive and workable. The judicial system must also be improved. The judges of the trial court must have adequate experience before they are deputed to run the courts. These judges should go through not only extensive professional training but their judgements should also be regularly analysed by the superior courts.
The D I Khan incident has been nationally condemned by the media, human rights activists and various institutions – including the KP Commission on the Status of Women. But will only condemnation be enough in this regard? Such cases can only stop if we reform our criminal justice system by making everyone equal before the law and guaranteeing cheap and affordable justice for everyone. We must reform our criminal justice system in order to save our society from further destruction.

The writer is a Peshawar-based lawyer.
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: s_irshadahmad

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