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Changes to 118-year-old criminal procedure code being planned

Changes to 118-year-old criminal procedure code being planned

LAHORE: A committee formed by the prime minister has been given till December next year to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) 1898 so as to improve the criminal justice system and the procedure of registering FIRs and to block bogus cases and trial of those unfit for prosecution.

Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali will head the committee.

Speaking to Dawn over the telephone, Mr Ali said that the government was serious about providing people access to prompt justice. “My predecessor had worked hard on this but was unable to complete the task. I have till December next to see this through.”

The attorney general maintained that the amendments would be made in consultation with all provinces. Sources in the Punjab government, however, said that they were yet to receive a response on the recommendations forwarded by the Punjab Law, Home and Prosecution Departments in August this year. The recommendations had been sent to the federal government after approval from Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. They explained that the amendments suggested would help save time and tax payers’ money and would prevent people from filing calumnious criminal complaints to settle personal scores. The suggested amendments were drawn up in the light of research conducted by the government to look into why courts, prosecutors and the police pursued criminal cases they knew to be defective or fabricated.

Official sources said there was an agreement on the need to amend the CrPC and to improve the criminal justice system in favour of people. However, there was difference in opinion as to how it should be amended. They claimed that over 50 per cent of the cases submitted for trial in Punjab were either false or poorly investigated. This raised chances of wrongful convictions and miscarriage of justice and sometimes allowed criminals to get off scot-free. The situation is no different in other provinces, they said. Among the recommendations sent by the Punjab is an amendment to Section 154 of the CrPC which would authorise SHOs to conduct initial inquiries prior to registration of FIRs in order to set aside false complaints.

Amendments to Sections 161, 162 and 510 of the CrPC would make DNA reports and audio/video recordings of statements by prosecution witnesses, admissible evidence.

An amendment to Section 173 would allow prosecutors to assess challans to see whether there was sufficient evidence to ensure indictment before submitting them in courts. They would have the authority to not pursue cases that lacked sufficient evidence. Appeals against a prosecutor’s decision in this regard would lay with the prosecutor general. Additionally, the complainant could file a writ. SHOs or investigation officers would submit reports to prosecutors regarding challans. The prosecutors would then check the reports and decide whether or not to return them to the police to plug in any loopholes. After rechecking these reports, the prosecutors would inform the district prosecution head if a case was fit for trial or not. The district prosecution head would approach the court which would decide if a detained suspect should be released on request.

Prosecutors would follow the code of conduct, notified by the prosecutor general, in deciding whether cases were fit for trial. The Punjab Prosecution Department is looking to have its governing law amended in the coming Punjab Assembly session in order to make it binding for all prosecutors to follow a code of conduct. The attorney general said the committee was mulling over suggestions to allow magistrates to allow registration of cases after checking the FIRs. Sections 161 to 167 would also be amended so as to make it mandatory for witnesses to sign statements before police so that they could be held responsible in case of retraction. Forensic evidence would also be made admissible after the amendments. Section 173 [dealing with police officers’ reports] too would be amended, he said without elaborating on what the amendment would be. He said that he had already constituted a sub-committee comprising advocate generals and prosecutor generals to evolve a consensus on how to make the amendments.

In response to a question of why the federal government had not yet responded to the Punjab government’s recommendations, Mr Ali said that that the committee would consider proposals from all provinces. He said they had consulted officials from Balochistan and Punjab and the next session will be held in Sindh.

The attorney general explained the committee realised there could be a difference of opinion on how they would amend certain CrPC sections. “This is why we have planned a full-day conference for the sub-committee to put forward their input and to give them ownership of the final amendment draft,” he said.

Published in Dawn October 8th, 2016

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