September 8, 2023
The Lahore High Court (LHC) has directed the Punjab Government to immediately establish special sexual offences investigation units (SSOIUs) across the province under section 9 of the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Act 2021.
The court also emphasized that the establishment of SSOIUs is mandatory under the law, as section 9 confers special jurisdiction to these units to probe scheduled offences under the anti-rape law.
Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh issued the order in a writ petition filed by a gang rape survivor, who requested the court to declare the investigations in her case illegal as they were conducted in contravention of section 9 of the Anti-Rape Act.
“During the hearing of this case, it was mentioned that the Punjab Government had not established SSOIUs in several districts even two years after the enactment of the Anti-Rape Act. If that is the situation, it is directed to constitute the requisite SSOIUs immediately and to arrange necessary training for the police officers assigned to them as required by law,” the verdict read.
What is an SSOIU?
Section 9 of the Anti-Rape Act envisages the creation of a special investigation unit in every district by the provincial and federal governments. The unit shall comprise police officers who have received training on investigation in relation to sexual offences, and preferably one member of the unit shall be a female police officer.
“Every SSOIU is required to have one female police officer as a member. This helps the victim feel comparatively comfortable during the investigation. The importance of a female officer increases manifold in cases involving children,” the order read.
‘SSOIUs to help increase conviction rate in sexual crimes’
The court also noted that the establishment of SSOIUs will help increase the conviction rate in cases of sexual violence.
“Section 9 of the Anti-Rape Act has introduced the concept of trained special units, SSOIUs, to investigate sexual offences more effectively. Because of their special training, SSOIUs can reduce delays during the investigation and considerably raise the likelihood of conviction in sexual violence cases, which currently have an abysmally low rate,” it stated.
The order also said that the majority of criminal cases fail in courts due to defective investigations. Rape and other sex crimes require thorough investigation like any other criminal case. If the victim is not sent for medical examination on time, or if the evidence submitted by the medical officer is not processed and transmitted to the appropriate labs by the police, the entire case may become weak which ultimately benefits the perpetrator.
The court also noted that “Section 10 empowers the SSOIUs to take cognizance of the offences not specified in the Schedules if they are committed in connection with the Scheduled Offences. Section 22(1) makes the false investigation a crime. It stipulates that if the investigator fails to carry out the investigation properly or diligently or causes a fraudulent investigation to be conducted or fails to pursue the case in any court of law, he will be punished with imprisonment of either description up to three years and a fine.”