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February 28, 2020

Revised SOP issued in rape and assault cases, SHC told

Karachi

February 28, 2020

A comprehensive proposed revised standard operation procedure of police has been issued by the provincial police chief to deal with rape and other sex assault cases, including timeframe to forward samples for DNA tests and receive them without any delay, the AIG legal told the Sindh High Court on Thursday.

Hearing a petition for reforming the investigation process in rape and sexual assault cases, a division bench headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar inquired the additional inspector general legal and the home secretary about progress in streamlining the investigation process.

The AIG legal and the additional chief secretary of the home department submitted progress reports and said they had conducted a meeting in which various aspects with regard to streamlining investigations in rape and woman assault cases were discussed.

They stated that substantial progress had been made in implementing all the directives given for resolving issues of the pendency of payment, collection of reports, revised SOP for DNA tests, a future payment plan. The court was also assured that constant follow-ups were in process in this regard.

They said the home department had moved a summary to the chief minister for a Rs50 million grant, of which Rs25 million would be given to each DNA reporting laboratory. They said all payments to Karachi’s DNA notified labs had been made in 166 cases and as of February 26 not a single payment case was pending and all DNA reports had been collected.

The AIG legal submitted that payments in 166 cases of DNA had been made to Karachi University and payments in 367 cases of DNA tests had been made to Jamshoro Institute, while 46 reports were pending at Karachi Lab and 235 reports were pending at the Liaquat University of Management and Health Sciences (LUMHS).

Sindh’s inspector general of police, Syed Kaleem Imam, assured the court that within a few days, all payments would be made and reports collected from the laboratories for onwards submission to the prosecution and the courts. He also filed a revised SOP, mentioning that timeline for safe collection of samples for forensic evidence had been given to the investigation officers.

The petitioner’s counsel submitted a working paper for showing timeline for the collection of forensic evidence in rape and sexual assault cases. He said he had collected some data from different websites of international organisations to show the life of the samples and its transmission to the labs.

The court directed the IGP and the AIG legal to go through the same and if required make some changes in their proposed SoP in the advancement of justice as well as for making procedures appropriate for decisions in rape cases in future.

The AIG legal submitted that it would be appropriate to call the focal person from the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences and the LUMHS for assistance of the court. The court directed the office to issue notices to Prof Beka Ram Devraja from the ICCBS and Javed Iqbal from the LUMHS for the next hearing.

The court observed that it appears that some progress has been made, and it expects that a report on more compliance with its directives will be submitted to it so that its orders may be implemented effectively and practically.

The court directed the chief secretary and the home secretary to expedite the matter with regard to the sanctioning of an amount for DNA tests and payments to labs, and to ensure that the amount was sanctioned by the chief minister within three weeks.

Regarding pending rape cases trials, the petitioner’s counsel submitted three rape cases were pending before trial courts in Malir, West and Central districts but the presiding officers were not following the protocol mentioned in the Supreme Court judgment. The court directed the counsel to submit case details to the member inspection team so that he could file comments.

The member inspection team submitted that some districts had complied with court orders; however, there were some issues of funds for which requisitions had been forwarded to the high court. The court directed the member inspection team to submit a progress report on whether some efforts had been made by the director finance and the finance department to allocate and release funds. It also directed the registrar of anti- terrorism courts to submit details of whether the ATCs were acting on the directions of the Supreme Court in rape and sexual assault cases, and adjourned the hearing till March 25.

The court had directed the IGP and the home department to convene a meeting and come up with a complete mechanism in which investigation officers or SHOs should not be burdened with the cost of DNA tests

The applicant had filed a contempt of application over non-compliance with the court directives, and the court directed the home department, the district and sessions court and anti-terrorism courts to ensure arrangements were made for DNA tests, recording of the victim’s statement through video conferencing and in-camera trial proceedings in rape and woman assault cases.

The applicant’s counsel submitted that the SHC had on January 31, 2019 had directed the IGP and the prosecutor general to ensure proper arrangements for conducting DNA tests as well as for in-camera trials in rape cases.

He said alleged contemnors were deliberately violating the court directives despite the lapse of eleven months, and the preservation of and testing of DNA evidence was sporadic, un-standardized and delayed, while the facilities available for DNA testing continued to be severely limited and dysfunctional.

Referring to the example of a rape case in Sujawal, the counsel submitted that the survivor continued to await the DNA test results despite the lapse of four months; besides, there had been no progress towards conducting rape trials in-camera or after court hours and even child survivour continued to be confronted with perpetrators of sexual violence in open court rooms and had to repeatedly suffer through this till the recording of evidence.

He submitted that victims and survivors of rape and sexual assaults are continuing to suffer prejudiced investigations and trials and denial of justice as the orders for making these trials effective and sensitised to the nature of the offence remain unheeded.

The counsel pointed out that so many DNA test reports were awaited due to the non-payment of bills of to laboratories. The court was requested to take action against the alleged contemnors for violating its directives.

The additional secretary law had also informed the court that the Sindh government had amended Section 156 (B) and inserted sections 156-(C) and 156 (D) in the criminal procedure code making mandatory DNA testing in sexual assault cases.

He submitted that under the criminal procedure, the DNA testing of the rape victim shall be conducted by a police officer through laboratories recognised by the Sindh government, wherein the investigation officer shall collect the DNA sample from the victim within 72 hours from the time of the incident.

The law department official submitted that the investigation agency shall preserve the DNA sample and its result in the hospital of the forensic laboratory.

Petitioners Kainat Soomro and others maintained that the Supreme Court of Pakistan had directed the provincial government and other authorities to reform the investigation process of rape cases, but the directions were not being complied with. They stated that rape survivors were unable to get justice due to a faulty process of investigation.

The petitioners, who also cited the provincial police chief and the health secretary as respondents in their petition, asked the court to direct them to take immediate steps to improve the investigation system.

They also asked the court to direct the authorities to establish a Rape Crisis Cell in each district of the province to facilitate survivors in acquiring immediate medical, financial and legal assistance.