December 18, 2020
By Rehan Piracha
Special laws on rape and gender-based violence (GBV) should be supported with required changes in Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) along with special legal procedures for their better implementation and enforcement, said speakers on Thursday at a Consultation on Prevention of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Lahore.
Judges, prosecutors and lawyers spoke about their experiences in dealing with cases of sexual and gender-based violence in the consultation, organized by the Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell (AGHS), at a local hotel.
The participants also shared suggestions and recommendations for effective implementation of laws and prosecution of cases relating to sexual and gender-based violence.
In her opening remarks, Nida Aly, Executive Director, AGHS, said that the purpose behind the consultation is to bring all stakeholders i.e judges, prosecutors, police and lawyers together to share their experiences and recommend practical measures for timely dispensation of justice to victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
An Abysmal Conviction Rate
Revealing some disturbing numbers, Nida Aly said that the conviction rate in GBV cases is between one to two percent in the country. “Its an alarming situation,” she said.
Dilating upon the low conviction rate, Saifullah Sohail, Additional Sessions Judge, said that the number of accused who are nominated have increased on pretext of revenge in 70 percent of cases, causing hurdles in conviction.
Forensic evidence sidestepped
Some participants emphasized upon placing more reliance on forensics and modern technology in cases of murder and rape.
Omar Bashir Maniar, Deputy Head of Punjab Justice Support Programme, said that at present ocular evidence had precedence over forensic evidence in the country’s judicial system. However, the judges said that certain flaws in the legal procedures make the admissibility of forensic evidence difficult.
Zia Tariq, Additional Sessions Judge, suggested that in order to allow admissibility of forensic evidence amendment was needed in the law of evidence (Qanoon-e-Shahadat). He was of the opinion that the prosecutors need to be given more powers under the law for effective prosecution of gender-based violence cases.
Training to prosecutors on special laws
Irfan Zia, Deputy Prosecutor General Punjab, said thatprosecutors should be given training about special laws in order to better plead cases. The training will reduce flaws in prosecution of gender-based violence cases and lead to improvement in conviction rate.
The judges and prosecutors criticized lawyers as well as the role of bar representatives saying that the major cause of delays in the proceedings is due to inappropriate behavior of bar representatives.
Responding to the complaints against bar representatives, Aly assured that she would hold a similar consultation with bar representatives so that such issues are addressed.
Following were the solutions devised by the participants to curb GBV cases:
- Sensitization of police, prosecution department and judiciary on sexual and gender-based violence issues is essential for implementing all the gender-sensitive safeguards in the protection of victims and ensuring justice.
- Ensuring availability of lady police in police stations to act as a first response team for any gender-based violence case and to bound them to record statements at any place of convenience for the victim.
- The helpline of the Ministry of Human Rights or Punjab Commission on the Status of Women should receive complaints of sexual violence and immediately forward the information to lady police stations for mandatory registration of FIRs within 24 hours.
- Performance-based accountability of investigation officers instead of punitive provisions would be more conducive to reducing the negligence in registering FIRs and conducting substandard investigations.
- Introduce a system for Electronic tagging of police complaints for effective follow-up in non-cognizable offences.
- Availability of lady doctors as part of the rape crisis cell.
- The role of prosecution needs to be enhanced to support the process from registration of FIR to submission of Challan for improved coordination between the police and prosecution department during trial to overcome deficiencies and negligence in investigations.
- The law should be amended for using forensic evidence to prove innocence or guilt in cases of resiling of statements of victims or compromise between parties.
- Creation of a special cell in Punjab Forensic Lab to handle forensic reports relating to sexual and gender-based violence cases to reduce delays.
- Revision/amendment in section 510 CrPC to include DNA experts report making it admissible per se.
- Cross-examination of the witness is a painful process for a survivor of sexual violence and the process needs to be made gender-sensitive by disallowing direct cross-examination by the defence counsel.. Questions should be directed through the judge (Defence counsel should submit questions in writing before cross-examination for approval. SOPs in GBV cases already include the above provision).
- Special laws should be supported with amendments in principle laws or separate procedures should be introduced in order to regulate and effectuate fixed trial periods as per the direction in special laws Otherwise any direction to conclude a trial in a specified time is not practical for implementation.
- Streamline role of bar associations to work towards supporting and strengthening the judicial system rather than influencing the process for personal interests. To increase women representation in Bar Associations to highlight and safeguard gender issues.