Senate body approves bill allowing formation of special courts to hear rape cases

Published September 1, 2021
This file photo shows a Senate session in progress. — DawnNewsTV
This file photo shows a Senate session in progress. — DawnNewsTV

The Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice on Wednesday approved the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Bill, 2021 stipulating the formation of special courts to hear rape cases.

The National Assembly had on June 10 passed the bill, which was later referred to the Senate for approval.

The Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice has Syed Ali Zafar as its chairperson, while other members are: Azam Nazeer Tarar, Farooq Hamid Naek, Kamran Murtaza, Mian Raza Rabbani, Muhammad Azam Khan Swati, Muhammad Hamayun Mohmand, Musadik Masood Malik, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, Samina Mumtaz Zehri, Syed Muzafar Hussain Shah, Syed Shibli Faraz and Walid Iqbal.

The members of the opposition, during the sub-committee meeting chaired by Barrister Ali Zafar, expressed reservation on a provision allowing the constitution of special courts, however, the proposal was rejected by a majority vote during the meeting.

Speaking to Dawn.com, sub-committee member Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said prospective special courts were bound to decide a case within four months.

"If a suspect approaches a high court, then it will have to decide the case in six months and in the meanwhile the suspect can't be granted bail," he said while talking about provisions in the law.

The bill will now be tabled in the Senate for approval.

Earlier, during the meeting, member National Assembly Malika Bukhari — who also attended the session — informed the panel about a proposal in the bill for the establishment of special courts to hear rape cases.

The panel was also informed that courts will have serving judges instead of retired judges.

Opposing the suggestion, Raza Rabbani of the PPP said he didn’t believe that constitution of special courts was required for hearing rape cases.

“We are not against the rules, but oppose the formation of special courts,” he said.

Azam Nazeer Tarar of the PML-N said similar courts were also established in the past, but they didn’t serve any purpose.

Voicing almost similar concerns, PPP’s Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said the judicial system had “choked” and called for the enactment of special laws for children and women.

He suggested the parliament must monitor the performance of special courts, adding the legislature could make changes to the law if issues continue to transpire.

Law Minister Farogh Naseem said the law could be challenged if a provision for oversight powers for parliament was incorporated in it.

He, however, added that the parliament was empowered to take notice of any issue.

The sub-committee chairman said the bill would cease to exist if the condition for the formation of special courts was omitted from it.

Talking to the media after the meeting, Barrister Zafar said the sub-committee had approved the bill in which the condition of a virginity test had been abolished.

He said a suspect, if proven guilty, could face the death sentence, life imprisonment or undergo chemical castration.

The senator said investigation officials could also face penalty if they were found negligent or tried to mislead case proceedings in any capacity.

In December last year, President Dr Arif Alvi had approved the Anti-Rape Ordinance 2020 to ensure speedy trial of rape cases with women and children as victims and to allow chemical castration of those convicted of such offences.

A statement issued by the President House had said that under the ordinance, special courts would be established throughout the country for speedy trials of sexual assault suspects. The courts would have to wrap up the cases within four months.

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