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PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has developed a road map for reforms in the province’s criminal justice system.

The road map titled ‘the KP Rule of Law Roadmap: Reform of the Criminal Justice System’ is a 77-page document prepared by the home and tribal affairs department in pursuance of the Item No 20 of the National Action Plan, which calls for revamping and reforming the criminal justice system.

“It is widely believed that the citizens’ frustration with the defects in the justice system – especially the delays, costs and abuse of powers associated with the administration of justice – fuelled the militant narrative, which promised the provision of speedy and effective resolution of disputes,” the report notes while underscoring the need of reforms.

The road map focuses on strengthening of institutional capacity, infrastructure, human and financial resources of the criminal justice institutions including police, prosecution, judiciary, prisons, reclamation and probation.

Document focuses on strengthening of institutional capacity, infrastructure in next five years

The report says the implementation of the KP Police Act 2017 is imperative together with a focus on civilian oversight and external accountability; while in the prosecution service it calls for creating the office of prosecutor general and related changes in the service structure of the service.

While analysis the legal framework of the criminal justice system, it delves deeply into the matter of the law reform and proposes several amendments in the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), creation of the public safety bodies and Regional Police Complaint Authorities under the KP Police Act 2017 and adoption of the standard operating procedures agreed between the police and prosecution department to ensure that prosecutors play their due role in the investigation process.

It notes that though the KP Prosecution Act gives the prosecutors potentially wide supervisory power over police investigations, it is unclear as to whether prosecutors actually play a proper role in the investigation process, guide it at various stages, or raise issues about the nature and quality of the evidence collected.

“Given the unreasonably high number of minor cases falling under the Arms Ordinance, Control of Narcotic Substances Act, and Local and Special laws, these laws and their attendant rules need to be thoroughly reviewed with the aim of providing for quick disposal of minor offences falling under these laws especially those relating to women and juvenile offenders.”

The report highlights the lack of coordination among institutions of criminal justice due a lack of trust in competence and integrity of other institutions.

To improve the coordination the report proposes implementation of KP Police Act 2017, creation of fully functioning safety commissions and RPCAs, police access service and district criminal justice coordination committees.

It says that home department for this purpose should put in place robust accountability mechanism for prosecution, prison and reclamation and probation departments.

About the investigations of serious crimes, the report says that the processes for the investigation, prosecution and trial of serious and violent offences need strengthening.

“There are significant weaknesses in the investigation of serious crime, a lack of scientific and forensic evidence-gathering capability, and lack of coordination between prosecution and police with the result that an unacceptably high proportion of cases lead to acquittals or discharge for lack of sufficient evidence,” it said.

The report proposes increasing of investigation and physical remand under the CrPC to 30 days in order to provide sufficient time for the investigation of serious crime and setting up organized crimes taskforce having representatives of various law enforcement agencies.

The report also takes courts pendency issue and notes that as of June 2017 the pendency before the district judiciary has increased to 193,467 criminal cases, representing a 3.5 fold increase over the last 2 years.

It notes that the bulk of cases clogging up the judicial process at the trial stage are of relatively minor nature, while major contributor for the problem of prison overcrowding as large proportion of under-trial prisoners who constitute 70 pc of the prison population.

“Only 10 pc of those in prison have actually committed or are under-trial for serious crimes, while 58 pc cases relate to non-violent offences,” it said.

The report proposes audit of criminal cases in order to identify bottlenecks and devise a strategy to dispose minor, adoption and implementation criminal procedures rules and sentencing guidelines to provide clear and consistent mechanisms for plea negotiation, admission of guilt, and award of fines ad probation.

The report says that a key pillar of the reform strategy developed through the road map involves strengthening the institutional capacity, infrastructure, human and financial resources of the criminal justice institutions over the next five years.

It calls for wide-ranging reforms in the police, prosecution, probation, prisons and judiciary.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2018