ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday announced sweeping criminal justice reforms to do equal justice to the poor and to the rich. “For the first time in the history of Pakistan, we are making this effort to ensure rule of law in the country” and move towards effective and swift dispensation of justice.” He expressed these views while addressing a ceremony regarding the Criminal Law and Justice Reforms here.
He termed effective and fairness of the justice system the state’s responsibility, saying the government’s reforms in the civil and criminal procedure would ensure justice faster. He quoted a Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), emphasising that many earlier nations were destroyed because there were separate laws for the powerful and the weak, reported Geo News.
Federal Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem, speaking at the occasion, said the Code of Criminal Procedure needed changes and mentioned that the newly-introduced 700 amendments in Criminal Procedure Code, Pakistan Penal Code 1860, Qanun-e-Shahadat 1984 had completely overhauled the existing legal system. He mentioned that the formation of a statute of an independent prosecution service, forensic laboratory, and prison rules were significant reforms.
Naseem said the law was made for mandatory dispensation of budget to the police station to meet the expenses of investigation, besides deputing sub-inspector at police stations with preferably a bachelor's degree.
He added the trial judge would be answerable before the high courts for not finalising the case within nine months. The court can freeze any documents, including identity cards, bank accounts, etc. of an absconder, he added. He urged lawyers to support the reform of electronic recording of witnesses, whether in any language, to ensure accuracy and expedition of cases.
In cases of personal offences including murder or rape, the maker of the video will not be made mandatory to appear before the law to render witness as proof of the incident, he said. Sessions court will be authorised to impose one million rupees fine for filing false and baseless case.
The law minister emphasised the implementation of civil law reforms with an effective role of the judiciary, benches prosecutors and investigators. Speaking earlier at the event, Parliamentary Secretary Maleeka Bokhari said over 700 amendments made in the criminal procedure code was a milestone of the government and would ensure prompt delivery of justice.
She said for decades, powerful people took advantage of the loopholes in the law, however, the reforms would provide support to the poor seeking justice. Salient features of the criminal law reforms trials in criminal cases to be completed by the courts within nine months and appeal will be decided in six months. The trial court shall prescribe the case management schedule. The federal government or the provincial government, as the case may be, may prescribe rules for the purposes of electronic registration of FIR in respect of the commission of cognisable offences, the conduct of inquiries or investigations through modern devices.
Police control rooms are to be made in every district and at provincial levels by the provincial governments. Under the new proposal, if an accused absconds, their CNIC, any other ID issued by Nadra, passport, bank cards, and bank account shall be blocked.
In case the proclaimed offender appears in the court, the court could order de-blocking them. The first information with regard to both cognisable and non-cognisable cases is to be entered into a separate register, where after the cognisable cases will go through separate routes of section 154 (pertaining to cognisable cases) and Section 155 (pertaining to non-cognisable cases).
In this manner, no information reaching a police station would be wasted. Under the new procedure, a 161 statement is to be audio/video recorded. In case such recording is not possible, the police officer will record reasons in writing. Although this exercise does not make a 161 statement admissible per se, the audio/video recording could be used for the purposes of bringing about the contradiction of a witness or improving their statement.
An investigation is to be completed within 45 days. An investigation report is to be forwarded to the prosecutor, who may return the report to the police for completing the documentation omitting lacunae, exploring various avenues, or explaining procedures for collection and recording of evidence/additional evidence.
Monthly progress report to be submitted to the concerned high court and copies will be shared with the Ministry of Law and Justice's secretary, respective provincial secretaries of prosecution departments, and the prosecutor general or the advocate general.
Explanation to be offered by the trial court if the trial does not finish within nine months. Where the high court is of the view that the delay in the disposal of the trial is attributable to the presiding officer of the court or any of the court’s functionaries, it shall commence or direct the commencement of appropriate disciplinary proceedings, in accordance with the law, against them.
No criminal trial could be adjourned for more than three days unless the trial court records the reasons for a longer date. The entire testimony will be audio/video recorded, without the interjection of the trial judge, except in matters of inadmissible evidence or noting the demeanour.
The audio/video recording is to be transcribed verbatim in the language in which the evidence is uttered followed by an English translation. In case it is not practicable/feasible for a witness to attend the court in person, their evidence shall be recorded through video-link dispensing the requirement to attend the court in person under Section 353 CrPC.
The federal government may, from time to time, issue guidelines for the purposes of issuing or imposing sentences. An elaborate mechanism for the procedure of arrest is being proposed where the police officer making the arrest shall inform the person arrested of grounds of arrest, prepare a memorandum of arrest, inform the family of his whereabouts, allow him to engage a lawyer of his own choice, conduct his medical examination and in case of a female arrested under the supervision of a female medical officer.
A new concept of plea bargaining has been introduced which will fundamentally reduce the backlogs and permit the court to focus on the remaining cases. A plea bargain will not apply to offences carrying death, life or a sentence above seven years. Plea bargain shall also not be applicable to crimes in relation to women, children, and issues affecting socio-economic conditions. A very important new section 144A is proposed which prohibits carrying of arms in processions, mass drills, and mass training to preserve peace and safety.
Amendments in the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 Punishments for different crimes have been increased. An offence for stalking women has been introduced. Amendments in the Qanun-e-Shahadat, 1984 the court has the discretion to allow evidence that is obtained or becomes available through modern means. However, with regards to crimes against persons an electronic audio/video recording and evidence generated through any modern device, including e-mail, fax, text message, etc. shall be admissible per se. New laws for the establishment of Prosecution Service and Forensic science Agency in Islamabad capital Territory have been made.
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