Punjab Police has issued new guidelines, as part of its “Free Registration Policy 2011”, for the prompt registration of complaints in the form of first information reports (FIRs). The policy, which is mostly a reiteration of existing law, was sent to all district police officers (DPOs) a few days ago.
The document, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, says the police practice of not registering FIRs until after initial inquiries was a hindrance to prosecution.
Some DPOs criticised the guidelines, stating that if put into practice, they would result in a greater burden on the courts in the form of false FIRs, more paperwork for the police, and more false criminal complaints.
The policy document states that the new guidelines aim to press officers to register FIRs as soon as they receive complaints – as stated in Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) – as the courts had expressed concern about delays in registration.
Prompt registration, says the document, ensures that the FIR has evidentiary value in the courts. “The longer the delay, the stronger the suspicion that the [prosecution’s] case is either wholly or partially false,” it reads. “The common practice that the FIR can only be registered after a police inquiry/investigation is a mockery of justice.”
It notes that corruption, on the part of the complainant or police, was a major reason why FIRs were not registered. Another was that officers feared that the crime rate in their region would go up which would make it look like they were performing poorly.
Apart from non-registration of cases, the flawed procedure also resulted in other malpractices, such as the police twisting the facts to classify a complaint as a cognisable or non-cognisable offence, depending on whether their sympathies lay with the complainant or the ‘accused’. “This situation endows police with a free hand to bargain with accused [and is] a lucrative medium for blackmail and extortion,” reads the document.
It added that the “conferment of absolute impunity and unabated discretion given to the police” to register cases violated the equal rights clause in the Constitution, and suggested various monitoring guidelines to check that officers are following instructions to register all FIRs.
Addition Inspector General (Research and Development) Malik Khuda Baksh Awan, who was involved in drawing up the policy, told The Express Tribune that station house officers (SHOs) had been told to register FIRs as soon as they received a complaint of a cognisable offence, even if the SHOs suspected that the complaint was not true.
He said a report of a non-cognisable offense, if found suspicious by the officer, should be entered in the daily dairy and then the matter should be referred to a magistrate, who can take further action. He said that the accused nominated in the FIR should only be arrested when there is sufficient evidence against them.
He said that DPOs had also been told to establish or strengthen complaint cells, where citizens can complain about the police, and monitor them regularly.
Fifteen police response centres will also be made into reporting centres where citizens can report crimes. Officials at these centres would maintain a written record of offences reported to them and pass them on to the relevant police stations. In addition, wireless control cells in each district would keep a record of offences reported over the wireless network.
The Reader’s Branch in the DPO office would then compare the information received from the response/reporting centres and wireless cells with the record of FIRs. If they find that offences had been reported but cases not registered, action would be taken against the officials responsible. They could be punished under the PEEDA Act 2006 with up to three years in prison and/or a fine.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a district police officer said that the guidelines would just confuse matters.
He said that if the police were not meant to investigate cases before registering FIRs and simply pass them to the courts, it would increase the burden on the courts while adding more paperwork for the police to do.
He said that the punishment in Section 182 of the Pakistan Penal Code for the registration of false cases was not strong enough to be an effective deterrent.
He said that people in rural areas often try to register FIRs against their enemies which had no basis in fact. “Free registration will to some extent give these people a legal cover to waste their own and their rivals’ money in court proceedings and police investigations,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2011.