Decision over complaints against police divides legal fraternity

Updated March 16, 2019


PBC demands reversal of decision to open complain cell in SP's office to deal with complaints about unregistered FIRs. — DawnNewsTV/File
PBC demands reversal of decision to open complain cell in SP's office to deal with complaints about unregistered FIRs. — DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: A decision recently made by the National Judicial Policy Making Committee (NPMC) has sparked disagreement among the legal fraternity with the lawyers’ premier body — the Pakistan Bar Council — demanding reversal of the move.

The NJPMC’s decision calls for opening of a complaint cell in the office of superintendent police (complaints) in every district of the country under Sections 22A and 22B of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to deal with complaints about unregistered FIRs and police failure to fulfil their functions and duties.

Earlier, this supervisory role vested with the justice of peace/sessions judge to hear complaints against police failure to diligently perform their duty.

In a hurriedly issued statement, PBC vice chairman Syed Amjad Shah cautioned that the legal fraternity would chalk out its course of action, which might also lead to strikes and other recourse till the decision was reversed.

Sensing the gravity of the situation, Dr Mohammad Raheem Awan, secretary of the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan and the NJPMC, issued a clarification, saying that the decision was being misunderstood and misinterpreted by the bar councils and bar associations of the country.

Move envisages opening of cell in SP (complaint) office to deal with unregistered FIRs, police failure to diligently perform duty

On March 11, a NJPMC meeting, chaired by Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa and attended by the chief justices of all high courts and the Federal Shariat Court, had decided that since a police complaint redressal mechanism, as per the recommendations of the Police Reforms Committee, had been operationalised at the district level all over the country, applications under Section 22A of the CrPC might not be entertained by the courts (justice or peace) unless accompanied by the decision of the relevant SP (complaints).

The decision was taken after the NJPMC secretary told the committee that from January till date, 25,426 complaints had been disposed of by the complaint redressal centers of the police department.

The secretary said that from Jan 1, 2017 to Feb 28, 2019, 614,307 cases under Sections 22A and 22B of the CrPC had been filed in the district judiciary in the country, while during the same period 47,029 cases under these provisions had been filed in the high courts.

Soon after the decision, a complaint cell was also opened in the SP (complaints) office in Islamabad.

The PBC vice chairman, after consultation with the vice chairmen and other representatives of the provincial/Islamabad bar councils, regretted that in line with the NJPMC decision, now the petitions or complaints would not be entertained directly by the justice of peace and instead an aggrieved person would have to appear before the SP to file his complaint.

Thus, he observed, the decision had further expanded the powers of police which would leave aggrieved persons at the mercy of police, thus opening another avenue of malpractice and corruption at the hands of police.

Mr Shah feared that the NJPMC decision would frustrate the already flawed criminal justice system and also spoil the powers of the justice of peace.

He deplored that while making such a vital decision having impact on the criminal justice system and valuable legal rights of aggrieved persons, the bar councils and bar associations had not been taken on board or consulted.

On the other hand, the NJPMC secretary explained that it appeared that the bar councils and associations had not properly understood the decision. He said that the office of SP (complaints) had been created as part of the police complaints redressal mechanism as a forum of internal accountability within the police department.

Creation of that office in no way took away or abridged the jurisdiction of justice of the peace under Section 22A (6) of the CrPC or the jurisdiction of a high court under Article 199 of the Constitution in the relevant matters, he said.

Dr Awan explained that an aggrieved person could still approach justice of peace or a high court in respect of a complaint against police after exhausting adequate alternative statutory remedy before a SP (complaints).

This view was subscribed by one of the senior members of the PBC, Raheel Kamran Sheikh who, in a message to Amjad Shah, said that a meeting of council should have been convened first to discuss the issue and develop a well-reasoned response, instead of abruptly issuing the press statement.

Mr Sheikh said that the PBC vice chairman’s statement imparted an impression that the lawyers were opposed to any reform in the justice system only to preserve their self-interest.

“Personally, I am of the opinion that when an SHO does not register an FIR forthwith notwithstanding that the complainant has laid information before him disclosing commission of a cognisable offence, there is nothing wrong in principle in providing for a time-bound, effective and confidence-inspiring mechanism of internal accountability within the police force and asking the complainant to exhaust that before invoking jurisdiction of the court,” Mr Sheikh said.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2019