ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has held that testimony of a police witness in a case falls under credible evidence and subject to the same standard of proof and principles of scrutiny as applicable to any other category of witnesses.
“Police officials are as good witnesses as any other and their evidence is subject to same standard of proof and principles of scrutiny as applicable to any other category of witnesses,” said Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin Ahmed while rejecting an appeal of Qari Mohammad Ishaq Ghazi against a Lahore High Court order.
The LHC in its ruling had upheld the trial court’s decision against Qari Ishaq for possessing pamphlets, fraught with incendiary contents aimed at inciting hatred towards a particular sect. He was arrested by police contingent in Okara and was later sentenced to five years imprisonment with a fine of Rs100,000 under Section 9 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997.
In the SC judgement, Justice Ahmed wrote the police officials, being functionaries of the state, were no less credible witnesses to drive home the charge in a milieu of pervasive apathy towards civic responsibilities. The verdict stated people preferred to recuse behind safety instead of coming forward in aid of justice.
Police witness subject to the same principles of scrutiny as applicable to any other witness, it rules
Justice Ahmed was part of a three-judge SC bench headed by Justice Manzoor Ahmed Malik and also comprising Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah.
By the time the appeal reached the SC, the appellant had already been released on completion of his sentence under Section 382-B of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1898.
Section 382-B deals with the reduction of period of sentence of imprisonment and suggests that the length of any sentence of imprisonment imposed upon an accused person in respect of any offence will be treated as reduced by any period during which he was detained in custody for such offence.
During the hearing of the appeal, his counsel Rai Bashir Ahmad advanced arguments before the apex court both on factual as well as legal aspects of the case. The argument ranged from denial of objectionable pamphlets, non-association of public witnesses as well as prosecutor’s failure to establish distribution of impugned material (pamphlets) in the public that according to him was necessary to attract Section 9 of the ATA about mischief.
In the SC verdict, Justice Ahmed regretted that the contents of the pamphlets were repugnant and abhorrent to say the least; too nauseatic to be reproduced; capable of causing most grievous offence and contravene all the limits of decency, an obligation sanctimoniously upheld by every faith. The argument that mere possession of the pamphlets by itself would not attract Section 9 of the ATA without actual distribution was naively beside the mark, the bench observed.
According to the judgement, a plain reading of Section 9, unambiguously, suggests that possession of the inflammatory material by itself was an offence even before it was distributed. The legislature intended to nip the evil in the bud and rightly so given the inflammatory potential of the crime, the verdict emphasised, adding that when arrested red handed, objection over non-association of public witnesses to confirm the possession did not hold water either.
The (police) officials who testified in the witness-box had seemingly no axe to grind, the judgement said, reiterating that the police officials were as good witnesses as any other witness and their evidence was subject to same standard of proof and principles of scrutiny as applicable to any other category of witnesses.
In the absence of any animus infirmity or flaw in their depositions, their (police) statements could be relied upon without demur, Justice Ahmed observed.
Thus, the views taken by the courts were well within the remit of law and therefore called for no interference, the SC judgment said before dismissing the appeal.
Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2019