With only half of the 1,015 cases pending before the anti-terrorist courts (ATC) in the Punjab in 2013, adjudicated upon, a report on anti-terrorism efforts in the province raises concern over the low conviction rate.
The report titled Anti Terror Laws, Policing and the Criminal Justice System: A Case Study of Anti Terrorist Efforts in Punjab called for reform of the criminal justice system. It was released on Wednesday at the Forman Christian College Centre for Public Policy (CPPG) and Governance through the USAID Ambassador’s Small Grants Project.
It argues that Pakistan, particularly the Punjab, needs “serious and systematic” reforms in police.
Any such reforms without reforming the criminal justice system that includes police, courts and prisons would be unfruitful, the report says.
It delves into the role and synergies between the prosecution and policing with regard to the criminal justice system.
Rabia Chaudhry, a research fellow at the CPPG and author of the report, said there were low conviction rates in terrorist cases.
According to the report, of the 1,015 cases pending with the ATC in 2013, only 506 were adjudicated upon – only 307 decisions leading to acquittals and another 136 resulting in convictions.
The report said of the 311 cases adjudicated upon by the ATC Punjab between 1990 and 2009, 231 resulted in acquittals. This is 74 per cent of the total cases.
A total of 1,717 terrorist attacks occurred across the country in 2013 claiming more than 2,400 lives and injuring 5,400 people; over 100 terrorism-related casualties were reported in the Punjab.
According to the Punjab Prosecution Department’s data, quoted in the report, a large chunk of acquittals is attributed to witnesses withdrawing their statements recorded during investigation.
Chaudhry said one particular department could not be pin pointed for such high acquittal rates. The report blames defects in FIRs and investigation and poor prosecution.
“In view of this, we insist that the entire criminal justice system should be reformed.”
The report focuses on police as an institution in the overall criminal justice system in terms of evaluating the ownership of counter-terrorism efforts.
It defines military as an institution that, by its very nature, intends to protect people from ‘the outside’, with their enemies being foreign hostile elements. It defines police as a civilian institution that performs the function of protection, but from the hostile elements from ‘the inside’.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2014.