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November 13, 2020

High court seeks final SOPs for investigating sexual assault cases


November 13, 2020

The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday directed the provincial law officer to place the proposed changes in the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for dealing with rape and assault cases before the DIG investigation and then submit the final document in court.

The orders were issued during the hearing of a petition filed by Kainat Soomro and others seeking the reforming of the investigation process of rape and assault cases. The petitioners said the Supreme Court had directed the provincial government and other authorities to reform the investigation process of rape cases, but the orders of the top court were not being complied with.

They said rape survivors were unable to get justice due to the faulty process of investigation. They asked the court to order the respondents to take immediate steps to improve the investigation system.

The petitioners’ counsel submitted a statement on behalf of his clients, saying that after examining the SOPs filed by the police department, he had proposed some changes in accordance with international practices and written them down in the tracking form.

The DSP legal said he would place the proposed changes before the DIG investigation and, after getting his feedback, submit the final SOPs in the next hearing. The SHC’s division bench headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar directed the law officer to place the proposed changes before the DIG investigation and file the final SOPs after incorporating them by November 24.

The court was earlier told that comprehensive and revised SOPs for dealing with rape and assault cases, including procedural requirements, time frame to despatch DNA samples for tests and receiving them without any delay, have been finalised.

The AIG legal submitted the progress reports along with the modified SOPs for conducting DNA tests. He said the police chief had directed the DIG investigation to meet with medical experts for drawing up a timeline for DNA sample collection in accordance with international standards.

A contempt application had been filed against non-compliance of the court’s directives, following which the court ordered the home department, district & sessions courts and anti-terrorism courts to ensure arrangements for DNA tests, the recording of victims’ statements through teleconference and in-camera trial proceedings in rape and assault cases.

The applicants’ counsel said that on January 31 last year the high court had directed Sindh’s police chief and prosecutor general to ensure proper arrangements for conducting DNA tests and in-camera trials in rape and related cases.

He said the alleged contemnors were deliberately violating the court’s directives, adding that the preservation and testing of DNA evidence was sporadic, unregulated and delayed, while the facilities available for DNA tests continued to be severely limited and dysfunctional.

Citing the example of the Jamna rape case in Sujawal, the counsel said the survivor continued to await her DNA test result despite the passage of four months.

Besides, he added, there has been no progress towards conducting rape trials in camera or after court hours, and even child survivors continue to be forced to face their alleged perpetrators in open courtrooms and have to repeatedly suffer until the evidences are recorded.

He said the victims and survivors of rape and assault cases continue to suffer through 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 non-payment of bills of the laboratories concerned. The court was requested to take action against the alleged contemnors for violating the court’s directives.