KARACHI, Dec 27: Case property in terrorism and kidnapping cases is exposed to various risks as the anti-terrorism courts have been working without a Malkhana since their establishment around a decade and a half ago.
The ATCs were set up in 1998 under the Anti-Terrorism Act, promulgated in 1997, to quickly dispose of terrorism and kidnapping cases, and later offences of extortion were included in their domain.
However, these courts have been functioning without a Malkhana, leaving investigating officers with no option but to take case property back to Malkhanas of their respective police stations after producing them in court.
IOs find it an uphill task to maintain case property, including weapons (rocket launchers, bombs and grenades) and huge amounts of money seized in kidnapping for ransom cases.
Police files, a key document to bring culprits to justice, also remained in the custody of IOs owing to unavailability of a Malkhana, said courts officials. The IOs have to produce the files on every hearing and also bring case property in court when evidence of witnesses related to a seizure is scheduled to be recorded.
Sometimes, the testimonies of such witnesses were delayed or extended for a number of hearings because of the absence of judges, defence counsel, prosecutors or for some other reasons. Under these circumstances, investigating officers have to ensure the production of case property on each hearing, they said.
If a case property or police file went missing or was taken away, it might dent the whole case of the prosecution, they added.
Therefore, a Malkhana must be in place on the premises of anti-terrorism courts to keep case property and police files.
The judicial Malkhanas were set up at the city courts and district courts in Malir. However, the low-capacity facility at the city courts was partly damaged. Currently it has no space to keep more case property even it appeared to be a mounting task for the staff to maintain the existing case property.
An official of the Malkhana said it was already overburdened and they had accepted no case property for around a year, adding that besides facing a shortage of space, they lacked proper tools to keep dumped case properties in the right manner.
He said they had sent a number of letters to the officials concerned asking them to set up a new Malkhana or to extend the capacity of the existing facility.
The sources see little chance of setting up a Malkhana at the anti-terrorism courts in the near future as the shifting of these courts to any proper place has already been hanging in the balance for the past two years.
Three ATCs are functioning in the provincial capital and are currently housed in the old KMC rest house on M.T. Khan Road. However, the building is in pathetic condition, its surrounding walls are damaged and it is also located near the so-called high-security zone.
In September 2010 the then acting chief justice of the Sindh High Court Mushir Alam visited the ATCs and ordered the shifting of the courts to a suitable place. On Sept 27, 2011 a two-member bench of the Supreme Court took up the matter and government officials informed it that the issue of ATCs shifting to another place would be resolved within 15 days.
However, the ATCs are still functioning in the same building.
Legal experts also expressed grave concerns over it and said the government should have set up a Malkhana when the ATCs were established. They also criticised the provincial government for not implementing the recommendations of the legal fraternity and the judiciary to centralise the subordinate judiciary, including special courts and tribunals, at one place and set up a central malkhana and lockup.