Beneath Pakistan’s noble aspirations, a plethora of challenges and concerns emerge, demanding our attention and scrutiny. From the burdened courts grappling with overwhelming caseloads to the flaws in investigation procedures, from issues of fairness and equality to the struggle for rehabilitation and reintegration, a comprehensive understanding of the system's triumphs and tribulations is essential. There are three main divisions of the criminal justice system; the police, prosecution and judiciary.
When a crime occurs, the initial step involves contacting the police. The arrest procedure typically includes the following stages: First Information Report (FIR), investigation, arrest, remand, and trial. Unfortunately, there are several issues throughout this process. According to S173 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898, there should be no unnecessary delay in submitting the challan to the courts. One of the notable reasons for delays in filing FIRs is connected to cultural practices prevalent in Pakistan. In this context, when a relative or family member encounters trouble, individuals often feel compelled to assist them, even if it involves unlawful methods such as bribery and intercessions from higher ups. The acceptance of these illicit sources of income by the police stems from multiple factors, primarily the inadequacy of their infrastructure.
When law enforcement officials lack proper infrastructure and essential resources, they may find themselves compelled to resort to illicit methods to make ends meet.
Moreover, when law enforcement officials lack proper infrastructure and essential resources, they may find themselves compelled to resort to illicit methods to make ends meet. This dilemma raises the question of balancing the pressures of adhering to the law versus conforming to societal expectations. Those who refuse to aid relatives in illegal activities are often stigmatized by society, leading to a sense of obligation that obstructs the course of justice. Consequently, this situation allows individuals with influential connections in the police force to potentially avoid the registration of an FIR against the accused. As a result, such delays deprive the victim of rightful justice. The first twenty-four hours following a crime are crucial for securing evidence, contacting witnesses, conducting forensics, and apprehending the perpetrator.
A delay in filing an FIR gives the culprit time to tamper with the crime scene, influence witnesses, or even escape the country. Pakistan's low conviction rate, around 11%, is partly attributed to procedural delays. In Haider Ali v DPO Chakwal [2 C.P. No. D-4734 of 2015], it was discovered that 65% of cases did not result in a conviction. Furthermore, in Pakistan, the police often prolong investigations until there is significant public outcry.
A glaring example of this was the Zainab Ansari rape case in 2018, where Zainab's parents highlighted how the police initially neglected taking any action when their daughter went missing. It was only after the rape case gained widespread attention and provoked intense public outcry that the police finally took active measures to investigate the matter. Prior to the incident involving Zainab Ansari, twelve underage girls had been raped by the same man, yet no actions were taken until Zainab's case came to light. The parents of Ayesha, one of the previous rape victims, came forward to express their grievances, emphasizing that authorities seemed indifferent when the daughters of working-class citizens were victimized. During a BBC interview, Aysha's father expressed with deep sorrow, "This place is no longer a home; it has turned into a graveyard." There are suspicions that the police arrested a suspect named "Mudassir" and resorted to an extrajudicial killing in an attempt to quell the public outcry surrounding the case.
Low salaries leave prosecutors vulnerable to the tempting allure of bribes, a plot that jeopardizes justice for the innocent and grants the accused an unfair advantage. As the scales of justice tip precariously, the fate of victims hangs in the balance.
Following the conclusion of the investigation, the evidence is supposed to be transferred to the prosecution. However, the prosecution itself contributes to the prevailing issues in Pakistan's criminal justice system. Weak prosecution is often associated with two main factors: an overreliance on ocular evidence (eye witnesses) and the tendency of witnesses to retract their statements in court. The perception of witnesses being influenced or coerced by law enforcement agencies, including the police, exacerbates the problem, leading to changes in their testimonies during cross-examination by defense lawyers. In a world where power and poverty collide, an unsettling truth emerges. Low salaries leave prosecutors vulnerable to the tempting allure of bribes, a plot that jeopardizes justice for the innocent and grants the accused an unfair advantage. As the scales of justice tip precariously, the fate of victims hangs in the balance. Importantly, when procedural delays lead to a lack of evidence collected by the police, the prosecution is left with no choice but to rely on the limited available evidence. Unfortunately, this often proves insufficient, resulting in frequent acquittals. The prosecution has the authority to instruct the police to reinvestigate, but unfortunately, they often fail to exercise this power.
Public prosecutors face a disadvantage against privately funded defense counsel, given the latter's access to a broader array of resources and facilities, which currently tilts the balance in favor of the defense unless substantial changes are implemented. Furthermore, the witness protection program remains inadequate.
Although the Federal Witness Protection Act 2015 and Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 mandate government assistance for witnesses in heinous cases, such as relocation and identity change, proper implementation is yet to be achieved. Tragic events like the 2015 murder of the sole witness in the Sabeen Mahmud case serve as a grim reminder of the challenges in seeking justice. Ghulam Abbas, who worked as Sabeen's driver and witnessed her killing, also met a tragic fate. He was fatally shot in the city's Korangi area on September 7, 2015, a mere five months after Sabeen's own murder, leaving a haunting void in the pursuit of truth.
Cultural practices delay justice as police face temptations amid low salaries. Weak prosecution and witness vulnerability jeopardize convictions.
Furthermore, in the 2018 Naqeebullah Mehsud case, the credibility of the testimony was undermined by the retraction of statements from two key witnesses. Naqeebullah's name was tragically listed among the four suspects allegedly killed during an "encounter" with a police team led by Senior Superintendent Rao Anwar. This retraction reinforced the claim that without adequate protection measures, individuals often feel reluctant to come forward and testify. As a result, the chances of obtaining crucial witnesses diminish, significantly impacting the prospects of achieving convictions in legal proceedings.
Within Pakistan's intricate criminal justice system, challenges loom. Cultural practices delay justice as police face temptations amid low salaries. Weak prosecution and witness vulnerability jeopardize convictions. Tragic cases like Sabeen Mahmud's witness and Naqeebullah Mehsud reveal disturbing realities. To unveil justice's true potential, Pakistan must untangle this complex web, fortify protection measures, and empower impartial investigations. Only then can a fair, equitable, and just system emerge, illuminating a path towards a brighter future.