What Ails the
Criminal Justice System of
The criminal justice system of Pakistan comprises four main agencies: the police, the prosecution, the judiciary and the prisons; the first three agencies play ‘active’ role as enshrined in the law for the dispensation of justice while the fourth one plays a passive, but reformative, role. However, it is unfortunate that despite profundity of the law, the criminal justice system of Pakistan seems in disarray. This is evident from the fact that Pakistan has been ranked 108th out of 139 countries on the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2021 in the category of ‘Criminal Justice’. Pakistan’s low ranking paints a ghastly picture of our criminal justice system the failure of which is devouring the society from within. The principal fault in our criminal justice system is that it brackets the complainant with the accused, leaving the parties in lose-lose situation.
There are many reasons behind the dismal performance of our criminal justice system; however, the colonial legacy is its Achilles’ heel. Be it the criminal law, its procedural work and rigmaroles of the police and judiciary, colonial legacy is there far and wide. It keeps the well-timed dispensation of justice elusive.
One major constituent of the criminal justice is police department. It is often said that corruption is rife in police. But, while levelling this accusation, the other side of the story is completely ignored. It is, in fact, meagre income, politicized environment and round-the-clock duty that have deteriorated the police work and caused malpractices like corruption. Moreover, the cost incurred during the course of investigation is hardly paid for by the government Can an investigating officer bear the expenditure from his own pocket? Definitely not! Thus, the monetary burden is shifted to the parties concerned which, then, blame that police officer took bribe.
Corruption in police cannot be wiped out unless its root causes are addressed. A three-pronged reform approach can be adopted for weeding out this menace. First is according substantial funding to the police by the government. Secondly, the monetary burden, which is shifted to the parties, should be legalized; that is, the government should charge a fixed fee for the investigation of cases. Lastly, yet importantly, the criminal law should be amended to make investigation process easy and hassle-free by providing financial resources to the IOs.
Now, let’s come to the prosecution department. Regrettably, its promising establishment in 2005 turned out to be a damp squib. Corruption is rampant in this department as well. Scrutiny of the challans – police report under section 173 of the CrPC – is one of the prime functions of its officers but, unfortunately, it has prompted the corrupt practices bringing about delays in the submission of challans to the courts. An IO often has to grease the palm of prosecution officers to get his challan move up to the court. As a necessary evil, this monetary burden is, again, shifted to the parties concerned.
The solution to this problems is that the prosecution department should work as a bridge – and not a wall – between the police and the judiciary. Challans should directly be submitted to the courts.
Next comes the role of judiciary that has a huge backlog of work. As of February, 05, 2022, over 53,547 cases were pending before the Supreme Court of Pakistan – the number is in many hundred thousand in lower courts. One factor behind this huge pendency is the ‘left-over’ cases. As William E. Gladstone said, “Justice delayed is justice denied,” so, timely dispensation of justice has to be ensured by increasing the number of judges. Enhanced number of judges would transform the criminal justice system.
Another factor that has hampered the judiciary’s performance and contributed to the huge backlog of the cases is the litigation for the sake of litigation. Be it a family feud or an old enmity, people register of fake cases so as to tighten the noose on others. Presently, the law and its practice against the registration of fake cases is lenient. The government should amend the criminal law in this regard and there should be severe penalties so as to curb the registration of the fake cases.
The government’s efforts for reforms will remain ineffective unless the criminal law regaring bail and trial is amended. Instead of granting bails to the culprit, a speedy trial of cases should be ensured. In the similar vein, relevant laws are much weaker, humiliating and even against human dignity; for example, the laws on hurt and possession of immoveable property. If a man gets injured by an offender and does not have any bone fracture, he cannot get registered the First Information Report (FIR) under nonbailable sections. Isn’t it humiliating that one necessarily needs Bone Fracture to get an FIR registered under nonbailable sections?
To sum up, many governments in the past have been promising to launch reforms in the criminal justice system. Nothing happened. Only lip-service has been served so far. To right the wrongs, the criminal justice system entails a whole-of-government approach. The simultaneous meaningful reforms – as suggested above – in the criminal justice system are need of the hour.
The writer is currently serving in Punjab Police.