A broken system

Updated September 30, 2014


.— AFP file photo
.— AFP file photo

IN Pakistan, one of the major factors contributing to rampant lawlessness is quite simply that criminals don’t get caught. And if they do, weak investigation and prosecution means that soon enough, dangerous individuals are back on the streets.

In fact, the data collected by the Faisalabad police serves as an eye-opener to indicate just how rotten the system is. Information collected by the district police reportedly shows that over the last five years, around 8,000 suspected criminals have been released for a number of reasons. Some of the suspects were apprehended for alleged involvement in crimes ranging from murder to robbery.

The reasons for their release will be familiar to anyone with an idea of the workings of Pakistan’s law-enforcement and criminal justice systems.

The suspects were let off because witnesses were too afraid to testify, while even investigation officers and judges faced threats. Alarming as the figure seems, considering the moribund state of the law-enforcement and prosecution systems countrywide, the numbers for the district should not be too surprising.

Due to massive holes in the system, the Faisalabad police have resorted to ad hoc measures to detain suspects, such as applying Maintenance of Public Order laws. This comes across as a relatively more tolerable way of keeping suspects behind bars, given that our law enforcers are known to use other, extra-legal methods, to ‘get rid’ of troublesome suspects.

To assess the situation perhaps a similar district-level exercise could be carried out countrywide. In each district, the police should make public the number of suspects released, along with the reasons why. This would give reform efforts benchmark figures to work with.

The next — and more difficult step — involves improving the capability and capacity of police forces to investigate crime. Today, mostly archaic methods — that largely rely on confessions, statements and informers — are used to build a case.

Officials have often cited the need for using forensics to aid investigation efforts, hence it is time noble intentions were transformed into action and scientific investigation techniques introduced at the grass roots. And as the investigation system is modernised, the prosecution system also needs to be overhauled.

The need for effective witness protection programmes has long been highlighted in the country, yet progress is painfully slow. Unless the state ushers in long-lasting changes in the investigation and prosecution systems, it will be unable to provide justice to the people and law and order will continue to plummet.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014