No improvement in criminal justice system in sight
ISLAMABAD: The military courts, set up under the 21st Constitutional Amendment, will expire in less than a year’s time on January 7, 2017 but the Nawaz Sharif government has still not taken any substantive measures to overhaul the criminal justice system for the speedy trial of criminals and terrorists.
The 21st Amendment was approved by parliament early last year as a bitter pill as the prevalent criminal justice system was not found strong enough to meet the challenge of speedy trial of terrorists.
During their deliberations, the politicians, while reaching a consensus conclusion on setting up the military courts for speedy trial of terrorists, had asked the government to overhaul the criminal justice system to fill in the serious gaps that had led to the time barred establishment of military courts.
Following the Dec 16, 2014 APS massacre, the political leadership agreed to amend Constitution. The 21st Constitutional Amendment was passed by both the National Assembly and the Senate on January 6, 2015, and received the assent of the President on January 7, 2015.
The Bill amended the Article 175 and the First Schedule of the Constitution. It also had a self-contained sunset clause, which causes the amendments to expire on January 7, 2017. As per the 21st Amendment, the provisions of this Amendment Act shall remain in force for a period of two years from the date of its commencement and shall cease to form part of the Constitution and shall stand repealed on the expiration of the said period.
It was argued that an extraordinary situation and circumstances existed which demanded special measures for speedy trial of offences relating to terrorism, waging of war or insurrection against Pakistan and prevention of acts threatening the security of Pakistan.
It was also said that there existed grave and unprecedented threat to the territorial integrity of Pakistan by miscreants, terrorists and foreign funded elements. Over a year has passed and now less than 11 months are left for the expiry of the military courts, still the federal government is in the process of deliberations for improvement in the criminal justice system.
Although the overhauling of the criminal justice system requires the collective input from federal and provincial governments, judiciary and lawyers; the federal government has the fundamental responsibility to get the job done.
Sources in the government say that they are working on the improvement in the criminal justice system but hinted that it was not an easy job that could be done in a fortnight time with a few amendments.
Depoliticisation of police and prosecution departments, cooperation of lawyers’ community to avoid adjournments, amendments to Pakistan Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code etc are some of the measures that are required to be taken by the federal and provincial executives. “The judiciary too has to play its role in ensuring expeditious trial and check delays,” a source said.
These sources claim that several bills, seeking amendment to prevalent laws, have either been moved before Parliament or are under consideration of the federal cabinet. However, there was no answer when asked if any improvement had been made in the criminal justice system or whether the police either at the Centre or in the provinces had been depoliticised or the prosecution departments had been made independent and efficient.