January 20th, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
A proposed amendment bill would set a nine-month trial period of all criminal cases in the country, said Federal Minister for Law Farogh Naseem as he enumerated some of the salient features of the revamp of the criminal justice system in the country.
In a video statement on January 19, the law minister said he briefed Prime Minister Khan about the proposed amendments in the criminal justice system.
The salient features include the digitalization of First Information Report (FIR), improvement in trial and appeal mechanism, use of electronic and digital tools in evidence collection, amendment in plea bargain laws, and utilization of video as evidence.
Criminal trials to conclude in 9 months
According to the federal law minister, the proposed amendment bill on reforms of the criminal justice system would set a maximum timeframe of nine months for conclusion of trial in criminal cases.
“The trial of cases is to be concluded within a maximum time of nine months,” Naseem said. He said judges and lawyers have to abide by the responsibility of concluding proceedings within the stipulated timeframe.
“The high courts are being given the powers to seek an explanation from trial court judges about not concluding proceedings within nine months,” the law minister explained. “The trial court judges have to give an explanation if they failed to deliver a verdict within the period and face disciplinary action over non-completion of trial,” he said.
Abid Saqi said trial courts have not complied with previous legislations calling for time-bound verdicts in terrorism and rape cases. “The timeframe of nine months is realistic but unless the huge backlog of pending cases is resolved the trial courts would not be able to deliver verdicts under the proposed timeframe,” Saqi said.
Agreeing with Abid Saqi that the timeframe was realistic, Salman Safdar said the proposed step could lead to early resolution of criminal cases. “The nine-month duration is practical for lawyers and courts to complete their proceedings,” he added.
Introduction of new FIR registration procedure
According to a statement from the Federal Ministry for Law and Justice, an efficient and expeditious procedure for filing first information reports with police was being introduced through amendments in the criminal laws.
“For any reasons, police do not register a first information report, the aggrieved person would write an application to the Senior Superintendent of Police (SP),” Farogh Naseem, Federal Minister for Law, said in a video while explaining salient features of the proposed reforms in the criminal justice after attending a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan on January 19.
“The SP will be bound to direct the police station to register the FIR,” the law minister said, adding that in case the FIR was still not registered, the aggrieved person would next approach the district judge.
Speaking with Voicepk.net, Salman Safdar, a senior criminal lawyer, said non-registration of FIRs had overburdened the judiciary. “Normally, complainants move courts instead of first approaching senior officials over non-registration of their FIRs,” he explained. “The proposed legal bar for first approaching a senior police official for registration of FIR would reduce pressure on the judiciary,” Safdar said.
Besides, the new procedure would also check the trend of registration false cases as those would be filtered out at the level of a senior police official, he said.
However, Abid Saqi, former vice chairman of Pakistan Bar Council, was of the opinion that the proposed procedure for FIRs was already in place due to a judgment of the Supreme Court. “The office of SP complaints about non-registration of FIRs is functioning across all districts,” Saqi said, adding that the proposed change would have little impact if any.
The federal minister said a graduation degree would be required for police officials to be appointed station house officers (SHO) in police stations across the country under the reforms bill.
About the police not getting enough resources, Farogh Naseem said police stations across the country would receive funds from the government for investigations, stationery, transport and other necessary expenses.
The evidence of mobile phone footage, photographs, voice recordings or any modern devices would be admissible in court, he said, adding that concerned tests would be facilitated from the forensic laboratory.
Independent prosecution service
Explaining the salient features, Federal Minister for Law Farogh Naseem said an independent prosecution service in the style of the United States and United Kingdom would be introduced in the country.
“It was decided to bring a new law of independent prosecution service in the style of the United States and United Kingdom. An overwhelming change will take place in the country’s police and judicial system through revamping the existing laws,” he said.
Salman Safdar said the introduction of an independent prosecution service would result in savings in time and costs for the State. “Regardless of the wishes of a complainant body i.e government, the prosecution service would determine whether there is enough substance and evidence in a case,” he explained.
“The prosecution service would pass only those cases which it deems are without any legal flaw or lacuna,” he added.
According to Abid Saqi, some provinces had already passed legislation regarding independent prosecution service which was a provincial subject. “Punjab had passed the Punjab Criminal Prosecution Service Act in 2006 to provide for an independent prosecution service,” he pointed out.
“The law minister has not given details about whether the independent prosecution service would apply to federal territory alone,” he added.
The federal law minister said that in cases of common crimes, a sentence of up to five years could be commuted to six months under a plea bargain. However, the option of a plea bargain would not be available in cases of murder, rape, terrorism, treason and other crimes of serious nature, he said.
The law minister said local traditions that force any accused person to walk on fire to prove his innocence would become a punishable offence.
In his video statement, the federal minister said the Prime Minister had approved the criminal laws amendment bill after chairing a meeting with law ministry officials on January 19.
Naseem said the amendments in criminal laws would completely reform the legal system in the country. “The proposed criminal laws amendments bill will be presented before the federal cabinet next week,” he said. Later on, these constitutional amendments would be presented in the Parliament, he added.
A law ministry statement said the laws that would be amended include the Code of Criminal Procedure, Pakistan Penal Code, Law of Evidence, Control of Narcotics, Railway Act, Pakistan Prison Rules, Islamabad Capital Territory Criminal Prosecution Service and Islamabad Capital Territory Forensic Science Agency Act.