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ISLAMABAD: Ministry of Law and Justice has reportedly proposed 644 amendments in laws, rules and procedures including plea-bargain in specific cases in courts, saving the offences carrying death, life or a sentence above seven years, well informed sources told Business Recorder.

Dr Farogh Naseem, Minister for Law and Justice, has already started discussion at the level of Cabinet Committee on disposal of Legislative Cases (CCLC) with the Cabinet members in the light of deliberations held in the direction issued by the Federal Cabinet.

On September 14, 2021, Minister for Law and Justice briefed the Cabinet that presently the rules of criminal procedure and evidence were archaic. To make more effective the laws and rules of criminal procedure and evidence, it was the utmost requirement to revise these laws, rules and procedures for the expeditious disposal of the cases, to ensure fair trial and the use of modern electronic devices in them.

After extensive research and analysis, he submitted the first draft of holistic criminal reforms in the first week of June, 2021 for consideration.

The Law Minister submitted the following proposals to reform the entire criminal justice system,:- (i) more than hundred extensive amendments in the Criminal Procedure Code, 1898, Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, Qanun-e-Shahadat Order, 1984 and other laws were being proposed;(ii) a new bill for a prosecution service in Islamabad Capital Territory titled the Islamabad Capital Territory Criminal Prosecution Service (Constitution, Functions and Powers) Bill, 2021 had been drafted;(iii) a new bill for forensic laboratory in Islamabad Capital Territory titled the Islamabad Capital Territory Forensic Science Agency Bill, 2021 had also been drafted;(iv) a new Schedule No. VI was proposed to be introduced in the Criminal Procedure Code, 1898 so as to facilitate the disposal of mercy petitions under section 402 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1898; and ;(v) complete new amendments had been introduced in Chapter V and XIV of the Pakistan Prison’s Rules, 1978 which deal with appeal and petitions, and prisoners under death sentence.

It was pointed out that although it was the mandate of the Interior Division, under which the subject of criminal law was placed, the Federal Cabinet, through its decision, had requested the Federal Law Minister to make the criminal law reforms; therefore, the summary was being initiated by the Law Division.

The Minister for Law & Justice highlighted that in total 644 amendments were being proposed. It was also pointed that these had been drafted within a period of six months, whereas it took India 25 years to prepare these reforms. The general thrust of the proposed amendments, was to encourage timely dispensation of justice by lopping off extra workload of the judiciary at one side and defining timelines for disposal of cases at the other. While facilitating timely registration of FIRs, measures to check frivolous and fake cases were being introduced. It was highlighted that these envisaged reforms will ultimately provide relief and benefit the people of Pakistan.

Briefing the Cabinet on some of the specific amendments in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, the Minister for Law & Justice presented the following:

(i) - Section 20-A—- this Section read with Section 154 were major problems. Police did not register the FIR and when it did, it was known to do it in false cases, because of which litigants/lawyers rushed to the courts. As a result, the courts were flooded with Section 22-A applications and thus they were left with no time to attend to other cases. In order to tackle this issue, Section 22-A (6) was being introduced, which mandates exhaustion of all remedies. Now this had to be tied up with the discussion under Section 154 which provided that if an SHO did not register a case, the matter had to be referred to an SP. The involvement of an SP would ensure expeditious registration of FIR where a case was made out, and non-registration where no such case was made out. This would automatically reduce the load of Section 22-A cases, without giving the Bar an opportunity to protest

(ii)- Section -44, Qatl-e-Amd under Section 300, for which punishment under Section 308 could be Diyat (blood money) was being added so as to be reported to the Magistrate/JP or police. This is a very important proposal.

(iii)- Section-46- This proposal reduced the possibility of male police touching women during arrest. Presence of female police officers was encouraged in case of women accused.

Plea Bargain deem conviction as accused accepts guilt in writing: NAB Chairman

(iv)- Section 54- The amendment required arrest on the basis of suspicion to be reported to SHO, who had to record the grounds of arrest in writing. This would substantially reduce police abuse, both in rural and urban areas.

(v)- Section 54A- Complete new procedures were being suggested in case of arrest so as to check police abuse. The arrested person was to be immediately informed of the grounds of arrest and be allowed to inform his family. Also, within 24 hours he could engage a lawyer of his own choice or a state lawyer if he had no money. Consultations between accused and lawyer would not be overheard.

(vi)- Section 54AA- This amendment was to facilitate compliant accused and reduce police abuse. In cases where arrest was not required, accused was facilitated to appear without arrest on notice. In case he continued to appear, he would not be arrested, unless, for reasons to be recorded otherwise. If accused was unwilling, he would be arrested.

(vii)- Section 88- Under the proposed amendment for absconding accused, CNIC, any other ID issued by NADRA, passport, bank cards and bank account would be blocked. In case the proclaimed offender appeared in the Court, the Court could order the de-blocking.

(viii)- Section 144A- The new section prohibited carrying of arms in processions, mass drills and mass training. This would preserve peace and safety. A public notice would be issued, which would remain in force for three months, extendable up to six months. This provision would prohibit all arms including batons and sticks.

(ix)-Section 154— This again was a substantial amendment. A copy of the registered FIR would be given, free of cost to the informant. In case the SHO did not register FIR, the informant would send the information to the concerned SP by post or electronically. In case the SP was satisfied that the information disclosed of a commission of cognizable offence he would direct the SHO to lodge the FIR. Enabling clauses were given to prescribing rules for electronic registration of FIR in case of cognizable offences and for inquiries and investigations, and for automation, employing a web-based system and creation of information databases and interlink the same with NADRA and other authorities.

(x)- Section 156- Subject to law, now any technique, modern device or forensic method would be usable for the purposes of investigation.

(xi)- Section 156 E- Federal and provincial governments would ensure availability of latest/model technology/devices for forensic investigations, for which rules would be framed.

(xii)- Section 160- A new procedure with regard to attendance at police station was given. Male below fifteen and above sixty-five years, women, and mental or physical disabled persons would only be questioned at the place of their residence.

(xiii)- Section 161- Under the new procedure, a 161 statement was to be audio/video recorded. In case such recording was not possible the police officer would record reasons in writing.

(xiv)- Section 164- The new amendment permitted the audio/video recording of 164 statement.

(xv)- Section 265 O- In Sessions trial for frivolous compliant compensation up to one million rupees would be awarded.

(xvi)- Section 265 P- Timeline for the trial is introduced - trial to be completed in within 9 months. Monthly progress report would be submitted to the concerned High Court with copy to Federal and Provincial Law Ministries. Explanation will be offered to the trial Court if the trial did not finish within 9 months. If explanation of the trial court was plausible, fresh timelines will be given by the High Court. In the end the High Court finding the trial judge to be responsible, could initiate disciplinary action against him for delay.

(xvii)- Section 266- Plea-bargain all over the world has been a great success. This will fundamentally reduce the backlogs and permit the Court to focus on the remaining cases. Ple-bargain will not apply to offences carrying death, life or a sentence above seven years. Plea-bargain shall also not be applicable to crimes in relation to women, children and issues effecting socio-economic conditions. Socio-economic conditions and offences pertaining thereto to which plea-bargain system will not apply, could be notified by the Federal Government. Law Ministry says it has seen that most cases which do not carry a sentence above seven years are inordinately delayed, the inmates suffer in prisons and in the end for lack of available witnesses the accused are acquitted after many years. So the proposal shall remedy this situation.

(xviii)- Section 266A- Plea bargain will not apply to an accused previously convicted of the same offence. Victims shall be given compensation and other expenses. The Court shall work out a satisfactory disposal of the case.

(xix)- Section 266 B- This provided guidelines for mutually satisfactory disposal of the case on plea-bargain.

(xx)- Section 266 C-If no satisfactory disposal was worked out, the Court would proceed with the matter.

(xxi)- Section 266 D- The disposal of the case under the plea-bargain regime would include the award of compensation, release on probation for good conduct, half of minimum punishment or one-fourth of the minimum punishment. A complete mechanism had been given. Minister for Law & Justice informed that the Ministry is in the process of filing comments on Executive Magistracy in the Supreme Court of Pakistan within two weeks. Once the directions/ decisions are conveyed from the Supreme Court, the same will be incorporated in the Criminal Law Reforms amendments accordingly.

During the discussion, members offered various suggestions but it was proposed that since only, in-principle approval, was being sought, and the detailed scrutiny would be carried out in the CCLC, the members may either give their input in writing to the Minister for Law & Justice or inform him of their desire to participate in the deliberations in the CCLC. The members who wished to contribute in the discussion would be invited to CCLC as special invitees.

After detailed discussion, the Cabinet cleared the concept of proposals and directed cabinet members, who wished to give any suggestions, would either communicate in writing to the Minister for Law & Justice or inform him of their desire to participate in the deliberations in the CCLC. The members who wished to contribute in the discussion would be invited to CCLC as special invitee.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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