Mystery surrounds the case of former Lahore SSP Mufakhar Adeel, accused of killing his friend, AAG Shahbaz Tatla, as he challenges the prosecution to produce the latter’s body. It also feeds the popular lack of trust in the criminal justice system
As court proceedings in the murder case of former Additional Advocate General Shahbaz Tatla gain momentum, following the indictment of former Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Mufakhar Adeel and his two alleged accomplices, many doubt that these will reach a logical end.
There is a general lack of trust in the criminal justice system. Many people think the accused won’t be kept in jail for long and will be out on bail sooner or later. This ‘perception,’ so to say, is not peculiar to the Adeel-Tatla case, as countless high-profile cases are known to have met a similar fate. Eventually, it’s the offender who gets to ‘benefit’ from the situation.
The points to ponder here are: Why does the common man not have faith in the criminal justice system of Pakistan? Why do suspects of heinous crimes easily get bail from courts? Are the police alone responsible for this or does the fault also lie with weak prosecution and the courts?
Keeping in view the result of most of such cases, it is not impossible that SSP Adeel will soon find himself out of prison. Given the severity of the crime, strict action must be taken against the murderers, no matter how powerful they are.
There’s a twist to the story. After surrendering to the police early this year and confessing to having killed Tatla because the latter had raped his first wife and attempted to sexually assault his second wife, the accused, changed his plea in the court.
A senior police officer says, on condition of anonymity, that the lower courts grant bail to hardened criminals under ‘pressure’, especially from lawyers and their associations. That is why criminals like Abid Malhee manage to get bail despite being repeat offenders.
According to former DIG (Investigations) Inam Waheed, under whose supervision SSP Adeel was apprehended, interrogated and sent to jail for trial, “Even though the body of the victim [Shahbaz Tatla] has not yet been recovered, there’s no reason the accused should get bail.”
Waheed is of the view that even though the accused and his accomplices (in this particular case) have recanted their confessional statements which they gave before the police during the course of investigations, it won’t be of any use. “The challan of the case has been prepared and circumstantial evidence corroborates the [earlier] accounts of the accused and his accomplices.”
Shahzada Sultan, the Investigation DIG, also rules out the possibility of bail being awarded to Malhee and his accomplice, saying, “I am certain that on the basis of the DNA testing and the circumstantial evidence collected against them, there is not even a remote chance of their release from the court.”
While some people are demanding public execution of the culprits, Sultan says the police “shall not take an illegal course.” He says he is confident that the offenders “will get maximum punishment — in this case, either life imprisonment or death sentence.”
Many people think the accused won’t be kept in jail for long and will be out on bail sooner or later. This ‘perception,’ so to say, is not peculiar to the Adeel-Tatla case; countless high-profile cases are known to have met a similar fate. Eventually, it’s the offender who gets to ‘benefit’ from the situation.
Sultan also believes that as it happens in the developed countries of the world, the court should give weight to the suspects’ statements in police custody.
Assad Abbas Butt, a legal expert and a lawyer at the Lahore High Court (LHC), says that that criminal law and justice system are based on the theory that a “hundred guilty may be acquitted, but no innocent person must be convicted. Fair justice is the ultimate aim of every legal system.”
He adds that sometimes an overzealous prosecution results in the conviction of an innocent person. “That kind of justice is justice denied,” he declares.
He laments the fact that despite all safeguards being adopted by the courts, even today innocent people are routinely convicted. That is why great caution must be exercised when giving the benefit of doubt to the accused.
Butt also says that “bail should not be granted at any stage in cases like that of Adeel-Tatla in which the body of the victim has not been recovered and other supporting evidence is missing too. Powerful criminals can easily influence their cases by intimidating the witnesses and exerting pressure on the victims’ families for an out-of-court settlement.
“Often, after they’re granted bail, the influential [offenders] use the opportunity to destroy the evidence against them.”
Butt goes along with the popular perception that the judges of the lower courts are under extreme pressure from powerful lawyers as well as their associations which frequently seek bail for those accused of heinous crimes. They are forced to grant bail to the criminals.
“The high courts should take notice of what is going on in the lower courts, with regard to bail. At least the Lahore High Court (LHC) registrar should be provided with the record where history-sheeters were granted bails by the lower courts,” he adds.
Butt concludes by saying that law and justice system should be made stronger by employing latest scientific techniques. Besides, the history-sheeters should not be granted bail at any cost.”
The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at [email protected]