KARACHI: The Sindh government told the high court on Monday that it had ordered its health, home, police, prosecution and all other relevant departments to follow the Supreme Court’s (SC) guidelines on reforming the investigation process of rape cases.
The government stated this in a compliance report filed by the chief secretary’s focal person on the issue.
A Sindh High Court (SHC) bench, headed by Justice Munib Akhtar, was hearing the case.
Three gang-rape survivors, including Kainat Soomro, had approached the court alleging that the provincial government was not complying with the SC’s guidelines on reforming the process of investigation into cases of assualt on women.
In his report, the focal person, Dr Saeed Qureshi, explained that the chief secretary had held a meeting with the officials of the departments concerned and discussed the issue. The officials were directed to deal with rape cases in the light of the court’s guidelines.
Qureshi informed the court that the social welfare department was directed to prepare a list of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that specialised in dealing with cases of assault and had adequate human resources in their areas. These lists will be provided to the Sindh police chief and then distributed to SSPs, SHOs and investigation officers so that police could contact the relevant NGO for assistance when dealing with a rape case.
Dr Qureshi said the provincial assembly had enacted the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPc) (Sindh Amendment) Act, 2016 in which, through the incorporation of Section 156-C, DNA tests had been made mandatory in every rape case. Similarly, Section 156-D has also made it mandatory to maintain the privacy of the samples and results of the DNA tests.
The official informed the court that the home department had directed the Sindh IG and the prosecutor-general to ensure that the statements of the rape survivors were recorded as a mandatory procedure under Section 164 of the CrPC.
The home department has also ordered the provincial police chief and the prosecutor-general to ensure that in-camera trials of rape cases were conducted after regular court hours and the privacy of the survivors and witnesses must be protected.
The heads of the police and prosecution departments have also been instructed to ensure that the statements of rape survivors were recorded through video-conferencing so that they or juveniles did not have to appear in court.
Dr Qureshi said the home department had written a letter to the IG on October 1, 2016 requesting the posting of female police officers, not below the rank of a head constable, at every police station in the province. This step will make it it easier for the survivors and their families to approach police stations.
He informed the court that the IG had been directed to ensure that no rape survivor was made to stay the night at a police station. The social welfare department will ensure that the superintendents of Darul Amans (foster homes for women) provide shelter to the survivors till a formal order is issued by the authorities concerned.
The home department has also ordered the IG to ensure that no suspect in a rape case was given undue advantage of bail by default. It has also been ordered that reports in cases of incest should be submitted within 30 days to the court concerned.
The court was informed that the health department had agreed to set up special rooms in all government hospitals for the examination of rape survivors and questioning families in privacy.
It was further agreed that the health department would ensure that the sexual assault evidence collection kit or sexual assault forensic evidence (SAFE) kits required for medico-legal examinations were available at all government hospitals.
Dr Qureshi informed the court that each step of the examination would be explained to the survivors, however, it would be up to medico-legal officers (MLOs) to control the pace and timing of evidence collection.
The court was informed that all government officers, including the police high-ups, had expressed their discontent over the suggestion that doctors in their reports should not conclude, on the basis of medical examination, whether or not a rape had occurred. They observed that this was a principle of medical jurisprudence and forensic medicine.
The health secretary agreed that as the formation of a special medical board was the authority of the health secretary, therefore in case a rape survivor or suspect did not agree with the findings of MLOs, they could request the health secretary to form a special medical board.
The bench provided a copy of the report to the petitioners’ lawyer, who sought time to seek further instructions. The hearing was adjourned till May 17.
In their joint petition, one rape survivor said a case was registered against her rapists but they were acquitted by a sessions court. Another victim said she was gang-raped by 10 men but only one was convicted.
The third petitioner said her case was still pending disposal in the concerned court as the suspects were trying to influence the case in their favour.
The petitioners said the SC had earlier directed the authorities to reform the investigation process of rape cases and set up rescue cells across the province.
They pleaded to the court to order the provincial authorities to set up a specialised DNA testing lab and appoint trained doctors to conduct the procedures. They also requested that survivors should not be made to face the accused and witnesses during trials.
In the petition, the court was also asked to order the Sindh IG to ensure that investigation officers submitted charge-sheets in rape cases within 15 days.