Rocked by custodial deaths, govt wakes up to police reform promise

Updated September 10, 2019

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Legal experts believe existing laws stipulate mechanism for tackling cases of extrajudicial killings. — APP/File
Legal experts believe existing laws stipulate mechanism for tackling cases of extrajudicial killings. — APP/File

LAHORE: With back-to-back incidents of custodial deaths, the PTI-led government in Punjab has suddenly woken up to its manifesto of “police reform” as announcements of introducing new legislation are being made by its representatives whereas legal experts believe that existing laws stipulate mechanism for dealing cases of extrajudicial killings and police excesses.

Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat and chief minister’s spokesman Shahbaz Gill have been in the forefront of making promises of introducing new legislation against the extrajudicial killings at the earliest.

However, the lawyers opine that making new laws one after another has never been and would not be an appropriate step to control police high-handedness unless the question of strict enforcement of the laws remains unanswered.

“Making special legislation to deal with every other crime makes the legal system more complicated,” said Pakistan Bar Council senior member Azam Nazir Tarar, who mainly practices criminal law.

Legal experts believe existing laws stipulate mechanism for tackling cases of extrajudicial killings

He said the laws already available in the country are well enough to punish the crimes like illegal confinement, death in police custody and extra-judicial killing. He pointed out that Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 was introduced to deal with the growing incidents of bombings and terrorism. However, he regretted, that the law had been even used to punish accused of aerial firings and minor brawls on court premises.

He referred to section 176 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) that empowers a district & sessions judge to entrust a judicial inquiry to judicial magistrate concerned when a person dies in police custody.

Mr Tarar said there were precedents of punishment including death penalty awarded to policemen in light of judicial inquiries held by the magistrates in cases of custodial deaths. He said the law also gave an option of filing a “private complaint” before a judicial magistrate if a person felt aggrieved by the outcome of the judicial inquiry.

He believed that implementation of the laws in their letter and spirit is the only answer to the incidents of police excesses.

Supreme Court Bar Association’s former secretary Aftab Ahmad Bajwa said the Police Order 2002 did provide the mechanism to punish the officials involved in extra-judicial killings. He said minor amendments in the present laws were required to make the punishments more rigorous.

He suggested that the magistrates concerned should be empowered to visit police stations anytime in order to create deterrence against incidents of illegal detentions and torture and deaths in custody.

He recalled a famous case of 70s titled “Master Asghar case” of Ferozewala wherein a DIG, DSP and a SHO were punished with jail terms following a week-long judicial inquiry held by a magistrate.

Advocate Aftab Mubarik said in March 2015, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar had proposed “Torture, Custodial Death and Custodial Rape (Prevention and Punishment) Act, 2015.” However, he said the bill was not passed by the National Assembly in the given 90 days.

He pointed out that the proposed law envisaged punishment from five to ten years with a fine of up to Rs1 million.

He said section 156(d) of Police Order 2002 carried imprisonment up to five years and a fine if a police officer inflicted torture or violence on any person in his custody.

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2019