A flawed system

December 4, 2022

The criminal justice system is a colonial era relic, no longer compatible with the country’s socio-cultural environment

A flawed system


he criminal justice system is a set of laws and principles that are applied to those convicted of wrongdoing. It is one of the most important aspects of any society. It describes the offences, punishments, procedures and ways to punish those who violate the laws of a society. The criminal justice system in a country comprises the legislature, enforcement agencies, courts and correctional services. Its basic objective is to provide protection to life and property of citizens and to ensure order in the society. It has three main phases: investigation by police, trial by courts and execution by jail authorities. It stands on three pillars: investigation, prosecution and trial.

The criminal justice system’s main purposes are to enforce the criminal law, protect the public by preventing and deterring crime, advise people on how to reduce the risk of criminal harm and, finally, to ensure an efficient and fair application of the law, proper treatment of defendants and those in custody.

A flawed system

The Criminal Procedure Code 1898 (CrPC) and the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 (PPC) lay out the foundations, procedures and functions of all components of the criminal justice system starting from reporting of the case to the police, to its trial by courts and appeals and correction at jails. In matters of heinous crimes e.g., murder and rape, many cases are sent to courts without sufficient investigation. This leads to lengthy court proceedings, delaying justice. A decrease in offences can lead to greater social justice. There is a need for improving investigation and proper training of law enforcement agencies regarding the effective use of forensic evidence. This will lead to overall strengthening of the criminal justice system.

A traditional approach on the part of judicial officers and investigating officials vis-à-vis expert evidence is likely to diminish the important role of forensic evidence. Take the example of the non-availability of expert evidence in a case due to the carelessness of investigating agencies. This rarely prompts the courts to direct the investigators to procure it. In most cases, the courts do not feel obliged to take any punitive action or play a proactive role. This approach is shaped by the view that if a particular piece of evidence is not brought before the court, the unfavourable consequences of the omission have to be borne by the concerned party, and that given the adversarial system, the courts are not bound to go the extra mile.

The investigation and prosecution should use the latest available technology to trace and locate criminals. As per Article 164 of Qanoon-i-Shahadat Order 1984, a court might allow the introduction of any evidence available because of modern devices or techniques. Yet, the utilisation of forensic evidence in investigation of offences is almost negligible. This approach is partly endorsed by the legal framework and partly on accunt of a lack of technical expertise and the requisite capacity in the analysis of a crime scene. If examined properly, forensic evidence can be collected from crime scenes, but due to a scarcity of personnel and scientific infrastructure, valuable evidence is often lost.

Requisite scientific infrastructure for the extraction, preservation and admissibility of evidence, especially in cases of heinous crimes, should be developed in Pakistan. 

Requisite scientific infrastructure should be developed in the country for the extraction, preservation and admissibility of forensic evidence, especially in cases of heinous crimes.

Data on heinous crimes reported in 2021-2022 in four districts of Karachi: South, East, West and Central, indicates that lack of training in collection, preservation, transportation, analysis and interpretation of the evidence prevents prosecution from establishing the guilt in many cases. This results in courts acquitting the accused on grounds of insufficient evidence.

The Access to Justice Programme, launched in 2001, to reform the criminal justice system has failed to achieve its targets in terms of police, legal and judicial reforms. Some reforms have been made in police rules, and the Criminal Justice Coordination Committee has been established. However, the performance and the image of the police have not improved despite the new police law introduced in 2002. The Police Rules of 1934 have still not been revised and amended.

Prosecution was placed under a separate department in 2005. However, the rate of conviction remains low. Comprehensive rules and procedures for the operation of Prosecution Department are still to be formulated. Better training and development of professionals in prosecution can help improve its image.

The courts are overburdened. The National Judicial Policy (2009) was a good initiative by the National Judicial Policy Making Committee. The policy aims at providing speedy justice. It was revised recently. However, it is yet to be seen whether the policy will be fully implemented or not.

Prisons are overcrowded and there has been no modernisation of the colonial prison administration. However, inmate population per capita in Pakistan is far lower than international standards. The department of probation has not been sufficiently developed, and the system of parole and probation has yet to find its place.

The criminal justice system is a colonial era relic that is not compatible with the socio-cultural environment of the country. To make this system work, the assistance of the international criminal justice community is needed. Promotion of criminology, policing sciences, use of modern technologies in investigation and security studies are some of the major steps needed to better understand and reform the criminal justice system.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court and a PhD scholar. He can be reached at


A flawed system