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PESHAWAR: A case study has given a glimpse into lacunas in the police, prosecution and judicial systems, which result in higher acquittals or fewer convictions in terrorism cases in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Titled ‘Understanding Counter Terrorism and Response’ and done by the experts’ committee under Pakistan’s Action to Counter Terrorism project, the study examined around 20 terror cases decided by anti-terrorism courts in the province during the last five years.

The committee identified the challenges facing the anti-terrorism criminal justice system and recommended the strengthening of the collective response to them.

Points out lacunas in police, prosecution and judicial systems

The analysis of some 20 cases, including many involving the killing of civilians, showed that most terrorism cases were not sufficiently supported by evidence and therefore, majority of them even failed to make it to the anti-terrorism courts.

Of the 500 cases registered in 2016 under anti-terrorism laws, 316 were recommended for discharge at the stage of prosecution – in a joint decision by the police and the prosecution, while only 184 made their way to the trial, said the study’s report.

“This means only 37 per cent of the terrorism cases were actually termed fit for trial and judged by the anti-terrorism courts in 2016,” it said hinting at the low rate of such cases submitted for trial.

The conviction rate in terrorism cases increased in the last three years but it is still extremely low in KP i.e. just 28 per cent in 2016, while acquittals happened in more than half of the cases in 2016.

“Usually, the police are the first responder in such incidents. They lack capacity and even facilities to scientifically collect evidence. How one could expect the proving of the terrorism charges by an investigation officer, who has just intermediate qualification,” said an official of the prosecution department.

He believed that it was important to have a trained and highly qualified or trained police officer to collect evidence, which was the basis of the entire case.

“Rs620 is still the entire expenditure for the investigation. How you can expect a quality investigation with it,” he said talking about different factors affecting the collection of evidence and quality of investigation.

Another official wondered if a witness had no security, how he or she could expect that the crimes would be proved.

He said after a terrorist blew himself up, it was hard to collect scientific evidence.

“Our investigation is very weak. We need good forensic laboratories. Our investigators are not law graduate or highly qualified and so, such basis of a case is weak one and difficult to prove a case,” he said.

According to the report, of the 1,100 investigation officers, only 37 are presently working with counter terrorism department, who lack interviewing skills and often fail to connect the accused to his or her accomplice and they do not make sufficient use of modern investigation techniques, including collection of forensic evidence from crime scene.

The report also adds that at the time of registration of First Information Report in terrorism cases, the suspect is not known to the police neither are witnesses identified and hence, paradoxically, this often results in weakened cases.

The police, prosecution and judges working on anti-terrorism cases lack a sound appreciation of confession as it is seen by all as most conclusive evidence but in practice, it is very common that the accused changes or deny their confession at the stage of trial. The confessions should not prevent investigators from finding another fragments of evidence to strengthen the case, suggested the committee, which analysed the cases.

It also said even in the anti-terrorism courts, the case writing should improve.

The committee called for immurement in the wording of the arguments from both sides, the differentiation of cases between anti-terrorism and ordinary, the decisiveness of the relief, the sentencing parameters and the status of absconders – when pronouncing judgment against the accused.

The study’s report recommended to train the police personnel working on counter terrorism on efficient crime scene management in terrorism cases, prevent contamination of crime scenes, post-terrorist incidents, train the police in evidence collection, guide the stakeholders in interpretation of investigative techniques and reports of judicial proceedings and maintaining records starting from FIR.

The report also recommended the strengthening of the supervision of police investigators in terrorism cases and improvement of the judgment writing in anti-terrorism cases to increase the understanding of verdicts.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2018