The Sindh High Court (SHC) has directed the provincial home secretary to devise a standard operating procedure for the constitution of the joint investigation team (JIT) in cases of preventive detentions.
A two-member bench, headed by Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, gave these directions while announcing a detailed judgment in a case relating to the detention of a student, Muhammad Hanif Rana, by the Rangers for 90 days.
His father, Muhammad Nadeem, had taken the provincial home secretary, the chiefs of Rangers, the police, the Karachi Central Prison's superintendent and the Garden police SHO to court for his son's allegedly unlawful detention under Section 11-EEEE of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997.
Hanif was allegedly taken into custody by the Rangers from Usmanabad on May 1. It was later disclosed before the court that the Rangers Wing Commander had received 'credible' information about the involvement of the petitioner's son in extortion collection, target killing. The commander had, on May 4, issued orders to keep him in preventive detention for three months.
The two judges found out that the home department had failed to constitute a joint investigation team, as required under the law, to interrogate the detainee despite the lapse of two months after his arrest.
On July 2, the standing counsel for the federal government had informed the court that the matter of the detention of the petitioner's son was referred to the JIT but its report was still awaited.
At the following hearing, a law officer for the provincial government said a letter was sent to the SSP South Zone on July 2 to file his comments but nothing was submitted by the police officer despite intimation.
However, Rangers representative Zia Arif Janjua had disclosed that he had addressed a letter to the home secretary on May 7 to constitute a JIT, which was formed but he was unaware of its outcome at that time. While taking serious notice of the situation, the bench had personally summoned the home secretary to explain his failure in forming the JIT despite the lapse of two months during which the suspect was in custody.
Home secretary Dr Niaz Abbasi told the court that the JIT was constituted quickly upon receiving the Rangers letter. The JIT found the petitioner's son innocent and he was released, the court was told.
The bench disposed of the petition as it was not pressed further following the son's release. The judges felt, however, that it was necessary to pass some orders to the civil authorities to take remedial measures in the future.
The bench directed the provincial home department to immediately chalk out a standard operating procedure and implement it to constitute a JIT in preventive detention cases. The procedure should allow reasonable timeframe of conducting JITs and submitting reports to the competent authority at an early date.
The bench observed that the purpose of retaining a person in preventive detention is to conduct inquiry and verify his credentials. For this purpose, the JIT has to be formed by the home department, and the three-month period allowed for detention does not mean that the JIT should be formed at the time when the detention period is expiring.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2014.