The failure of prosecutors to attain convictions in major as well as routine cases has badly eroded public confidence in the state’s ability to respond to increasing incidents of crime and terrorism
Amid growing calls to revamp the country’s dysfunctional criminal justice system, in order to provide speedy justice to the common man at his doorstep, several lacunae in the flawed prosecution service have been identified. These lacunae are believed to be the cause of delay in the provision of justice and release of criminals.
The low conviction rate — which is between 5 and 10 percent at best — and the failure of prosecutors to attain convictions in major cases has badly eroded public confidence in the state’s ability to respond to increasing incidents of crime and terrorism.
Experts suggest that without bringing about concrete changes in the prosecution, the dream of having an effective criminal justice system in the country can never be realised.
With the police holding the prosecution responsible for low conviction rate, and vice versa, investigations reveal that like the police investigators, the prosecutors are poorly trained and not closely engaged in the processes. Moreover, corruption, intimidation and external interference aggravate the situation.
Given the lack of methods of collecting scientific evidence and reliable witness protection programmes, the police and prosecutors bank largely on confessions by the accused, which are inadmissible in the courts. So, major criminals are regularly released on bail while their trials go on for years.
The problem does not end here. One major reason quoted for weak prosecution in the country is the overwhelming dependence on ocular evidence and the tendency among witnesses to retract statements in the courts. The perception that witnesses are often ‘planted’ by the law-enforcing agencies, including the police, also adds to the problem, as this way the witnesses are likely to change their statements during cross-examination by defence lawyers.
An investigation officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, says that rampant corruption marks the system of prosecution: “Different rates are fixed for different natures of criminal cases to be submitted in the courts by the prosecutors. Sometime back, I was compelled to pay Rs 25, 000 to a prosecutor as I wanted to get my case challan passed. Without greasing the palm of the prosecutors, it is virtually impossible for IOs to get their case files passed by the prosecution. If you don’t pay the bribe, they will raise objections to create hurdles in your way.”
Eventually, the victim is left to suffer while the criminal gets undue favours. In the words of the investigation officer, “The ‘rates’ range from Rs 500 for the passing of challan against shopkeepers booked for profiteering, to Rs 25,000 or more for a murder case.
“Rs 1,500 is the fixed rate to have your case challan passed under Section 482-1,” he adds.
Given the lack of methods of collecting scientific evidence and reliable witness protection programmes, both police and prosecutors bank largely on confessions by the accused, which are inadmissible in the courts. So, major criminals are regularly released on bail, or their trials persist for years.
DIG (Investigation) Shahzada Sultan says that prosecution plays a pivotal role in the administration of justice. “In the absence of a strong prosecution, the desired results cannot be attained,” he tells TNS.
“For the first time in the history of Pakistan prosecution was separated from the police and given under the control of respective provincial departments under the Police Order 2002. Earlier, ever since the British Raj, the prosecution services in the country had been part of the police. Each province had its prosecution wing that was composed of law graduates of the rank of sub-inspector, inspector or deputy superintendent.”
Elaborating the role of the police investigators and the prosecutors, Sultan says, “Normally, the police are assigned to carry out investigations in cases of crime. The police are also required to submit challans against the accused, leaving it to the prosecutors to take on the legal battle in courts.
“The prosecutors’ role begins right after a case is lodged. Through the framing of charges and collection of evidence, and the final judgment of the court, they do not generally involve the police. They are, however, engaged at the time of contesting the case in the court.”
If the prosecutors work along with police officers during the course of investigation and the submission of challan, he says, they can advise the police officers better as to how to set up the case in a way that the charges can be proved in the court.
What actually happens is that the prosecutors have no choice but to defend the cases prepared without their knowledge and participation. “As a result, they have low conviction rates.
“Another factor that affects the performance of the prosecutors is the poor working conditions.”
The salaries of prosecutors are very low, says the DIG. “The prosecutors don’t even have transport facilities or independent offices. The Prosecutor General of Punjab does not even have the authority to transfer or depute prosecutors..”
Rana Arif Kamal Noon, the Punjab prosecutor general, denies that there is a culture of bribery in the service. However, he admits that a lot is needed to improve the financial condition of the prosecutors.
The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at [email protected]