Much-needed legal reforms

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THE Government surely deserves credit for introducing massive legal reforms aimed at reforming the criminal law and judicial system.

At a ceremony on Thursday, Prime Minister Imran Khan launched about 700 amendments in Criminal Procedure Code, Pakistan Penal Code 1860 and Qanun-e-Shahadat 1984 aimed at completely overhauling the existing legal system.

The reform, drafted by legal experts under the guidance of Law Minister Farogh Naseem, would surely go a long way in improving the otherwise rotten system and might help restore confidence of the people in the ability of the state to dispense justice fairly and expeditiously.

Measures like the formation of a statute of an independent prosecution service, establishment of a forensic science agency in the Federal Capital, and reforms in prison rules would help realize this cherished objective.

Lack of financial resources is one of the major factors behind poor performance of police and prevalence of rampant corruption as, presently, police extort money from affected parties to meet its requirements of transportation, food and lodging.

The reforms envisage mandatory dispensation of budget to the police station to meet the expenses of investigation, besides deputing sub-inspectors at police stations with preferably a bachelor’s degree.

In the backdrop of proverbial delays in trial, the package of reforms includes provisions for completion of trial in nine months and disposal of appeals in six months.

Police control rooms are to be made in every district and at provincial levels by the provincial governments.

Under the new proposal, if an accused absconds, their CNIC any other ID issued by NADRA, passport, bank cards and bank account shall be blocked.

There are also moves towards electronic registration of FIR in respect of the commission of cognizable offences and recording of audio/video statements but these are insignificant moves whereas greater efficiency of the system can be ensured by greater application of technology right from the police station to different tiers of the judicial system.

As per existing practice, police take much time in carrying out investigations and often submit incomplete challans.

Now the force is required to complete the task in 45 days and there would be no adjournment of the criminal trial for more than three days unless the trial court records the reasons for a longer date.

To ward against common complaints about arbitrary arrests and exploitative tactics by the police, an elaborate mechanism for the procedure of arrest is being proposed where the police officer making the arrest shall inform the person arrested of grounds of arrest, prepare a memorandum of arrest, inform the family of his whereabouts, allow him to engage a lawyer of his own choice, conduct his medical examination and in case of a female arrested under the supervision of a female medical officer.

There is genuine criticism of the provision of plea bargain in the accountability process but this is also being introduced in the legal system as well.

It is being introduced on the plea that it will fundamentally reduce the backlogs and permit the court to focus on the remaining cases.

However, a plea bargain will not apply to offences carrying death, life or a sentence above seven years as well as crimes in relation to women, children and issues affecting socio-economic conditions.

The Prime Minister has rightly pointed out that for the first time in the history of the country sweeping reforms are being introduced to do equal justice to the poor and to the rich and that it is a big move towards effective and swift dispensation of justice but much depends on actual and sincere implementation of the amendments.

This requires a drastic change of attitude by police, judiciary and the legal community as presently the system is suffering because of the vested interests of these three stakeholders.

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