EXPERIENCES with the criminal justice system may vary from country to country, but in states like Pakistan, where the system is not known for its speedy delivery of justice, individuals often have to languish in detention beyond the duration of their sentences. There have been cases here where people have spent over a decade in jail as their trials have dragged on. Yet there are systems which are more opaque and byzantine than Pakistan’s; for example, in the Gulf nations even flimsy charges can get one hauled away, with the legal process proceeding at a snail’s pace. Therefore, it is of great concern that thousands of Pakistanis are languishing in foreign jails, while the state has no coherent policy to provide them with legal assistance. As reported recently, the foreign affairs ministry told the Lahore High Court that 9,476 Pakistani nationals are imprisoned in 100 countries. The court was hearing a petition by families of prisoners incarcerated in the Gulf states — the majority of Pakistani prisoners abroad are reportedly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
In states where the rule of law is enforced and the judicial process is transparent, Pakistanis accused of committing a crime are either exonerated if found innocent, or let off on completion of their sentence. However, as indicated above, in states where official processes are less transparent, the guilty and the accused can spend an inordinate amount of time in jail in miserable conditions. That is why the Lahore High Court’s order to the government to place the consular protection policy before it in two months must be welcomed. Under such a policy, Pakistani missions abroad would be tasked with providing consular access to Pakistani citizens in foreign jails. Such access, whether in the shape of hiring local counsel, or translating court proceedings, can be instrumental in helping Pakistanis aboard secure justice. The government must not delay the formulation of such a policy and should present it before the court within the stipulated period.
Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2017