KARACHI: Although the reports of interrogation conducted by joint investigation teams (JITs) lack the status of legally admissible evidence in courts of law, they can still help law enforcers trace those responsible for high-profile crimes, such as, most recently, the Baldia factory fire.
Legal experts believe that these JITs help aid law enforcement agencies in their investigations while working on cases of extremism, terrorism and ethnic violence.
What is a JIT?
In high-profile criminal cases, the provincial home department constitutes a JIT to probe into the matter. “These teams comprise of members of the Inter-Services Intelligence, the Military Intelligence, the Intelligence Bureau, the Federal Investigation Agency, the Rangers and the police,” explained a government law officer. “The involvement of the agencies working under the federal and provincial governments varies, depending upon the nature of the incident.”
JITs were the talk of the town, widely discussed on the national as well as social media, after the law enforcers launched joint targeted operations to control lawlessness in the city in September 2013. As allegations of illegal confinement began pouring in, the Rangers, who have been assisting the police in operations carried out in different localities, have on occasion claimed to have JITs to justify the detentions of suspects.
The latest JIT controversy is one based on a statement by a suspect, Muhammad Rizwan Qureshi, who blamed members of a political party for the Baldia factory fire that killed 259 workers in September 2012.
As the case hit the headlines in both the national and international media, it also sparked a debate about the credibility of JIT reports.
Talking to The Express Tribune, many legal experts were of the view that they lack legal admissibility for acceptance as credible evidence in the courts. “The statement given by a suspect to the police during custody is not admissible evidence in court to pave the way for his trial, in accordance with Article 38 of the Qanoon-e-Shahadat Ordinance of 1984,” a legal consultant for a federal law enforcement agency told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity.
“The suspect is required to appear and record a statement before the judicial magistrate in order to ensure transparency,” the lawyer added. “The JIT report is similarly not admissible in court.”
In the past, the legal admissibility of JIT reports had also come under discussion at the highest levels when the authorities swung into motion on the Supreme Court’s directives during the hearing of suo motu proceedings about the law and order situation in Karachi.
“One suggestion was that a judicial magistrate should be part of the JIT to ensure that statements were not taken under duress,” then-provincial advocate general Barrister Khalid Javed Khan told The Express Tribune.
“This would help the law enforcers ensure effective prosecution and restore the judiciary’s confidence, shaken by the police’s traditional methods of extracting incriminating statements,” he said. “And, of course, the JIT report would then attain legal importance.”
Not so useless?
The experts also believe, however, that JIT reports can still be used to initiate trials and, with effective investigation and prosecution, bring the culprits to the book.
“A JIT report is good enough to set the law into motion because it empowers law enforcers to obtain physical remand of the suspects in connection with other cases,” said a legal consultant. “Just take the example of the recent Baldia fire revelations. The suspect was arrested for possession of illicit arms and now it is up to the investigating agencies to register another case or interrogate him about the fire and track down the real culprits.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2015.