ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has finalised a policy to streamline the capital’s criminal justice system, which will likely be enforced from June 1.

Sources in the high court told Dawn that Chief Justice Athar Minallah has approved the policy under which criminal appeals will be concluded within three months; these appeals can otherwise linger for decades.

The IHC administration circulated the policy draft among stakeholders and included their input in the final draft. Stakeholders include judges, the Pakistan Bar Council, Islamabad Bar Council, presidents of IHC bar and district bar associations and the superintendent of the Rawalpindi Central Jail.

Under the policy, the IHC administration has laid down a procedure to fix criminal appeals for hearing, prescribed a timeframe to complete legal formalities and set a schedule to conclude appeals.

In the current system, criminal appeals take years to decide and suspects are sometimes acquitted posthumously, after dying of natural causes while incarcerated.

Policy aiming to conclude criminal appeals within three months likely to be enforced from June

Under the new policy, in addition to clearing a backlog of more than 35,000 cases, newly instituted cases will be completed within three months.

“Every criminal appeal against conviction is decided and disposed of within 90 days from the date it has been entertained on the judicial side,” the policy states.

Criminal appeals against conviction are received in two modes: either through the superintendent of the prison where the convicted individual is incarcerated or through counsel engaged by the latter.

The draft also states: “Criminal appeals against conviction shall be fixed in the week following the date on which they have been received.”

It says that after the court entertains an appeal, the registrar’s office will issue notices to parties through the concerned police station and ensure the notice is served in 10 days.

Meanwhile, the registrar’s office “shall requisition the record and prepare paper book within 15 days”.

The office will ask parties, while serving notices, to intimate counsel names. In case a party fails to do so within 10 days of the notice being served, the case will be fixed according to the schedule.

Parties are supposed to furnish written submissions after the receipt of notices. After receiving the written submissions, the office will provide copies to parties in the matter or to their lawyers.

According to the policy, counsels may file written arguments in emails to the registrar’s office.

In addition, the advocate general, attorney general and relevant organisations “shall be responsible to nominate their respective representatives to receive and submit documents.”

“It shall be the duty of the registrar office to complete all the aforementioned formalities within 30 days from the date when the appeal against conviction has been entertained. The appeal shall be fixed in the week following completion of the formalities after seeking consent of the counsels,” the proposed policy states.

“The hearing shall not be adjourned due to absence of a counsel and the appeal shall be decided on the basis of written arguments/submissions,” it says.

Under the policy, district and sessions judges are also asked to ensure that trials in criminal cases are concluded expeditiously, preferably within 90 days from the date of submission of report under section 173 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which is commonly known as a police challan.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2020