| Updated at: 2101 PST, Monday, December 06, 2010|
ISLAMABAD/BRUSSELS: Pakistan's dysfunctional criminal justice system poses serious risks for domestic, regional and international security; the federal and provincial governments must make its reform a top priority, International Crisis Group said in its 'Reforming Pakistan's Criminal Justice System' report issued today.
The latest report from the group, examines Pakistan's criminal justice sector and urges the government to take immediate action for reform. Investigators are poorly trained, prosecutors fail to build strong cases that stand up in court, and there is a lack of access to basic data and modern tools. Moreover, corruption, intimidation and external interference, including by the military's intelligence agencies, compromise cases before they even come to court. As a result, domestic stability is undermined, and the public's confidence in the law is weakened.
"Pakistan's police, and indeed the whole criminal justice system, still largely functions on the imperative of maintaining public order rather than tackling 21st century crime", says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group's South Asia Project Director.
Given the absence of scientific evidence collection methods and credible witness protection programs, police and prosecutors rely mostly on confessions by the accused, which are inadmissible in court. Militants and other major criminals are regularly released on bail, or their trials persist for years even as they plan operations from prison. Even terrorism cases produce few convictions.
The low conviction rate, between 5 and 10 per cent at best, may be unsurprising in a system so resistant to reform, but it has troubling consequences. When prosecutors fail to get convictions in major cases such as the June 2008 Danish embassy bombing, the September 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad, and the March 2009 attack on a police academy in Lahore, public confidence in the state's ability to respond to terrorism is dramatically weakened.
Of course, criminal justice cannot be isolated from the broader challenges of the democratic transition. The repeated suspension of the constitution by military regimes, followed by extensive reforms to centralise power and to strengthen their civilian allies, notably the religious right, have undermined constitutionalism and the rule of law.
Pakistan's federal government and provincial governments must revoke discriminatory laws, amend the Criminal Procedure Code to establish a robust witness protection program, recast the Anti-Terrorism Act and repeal parallel court systems. The police's investigative capacity must be strengthened, external interference in investigations prevented and a comprehensive review conducted to assess gaps in personnel, training and resource needs. Policymakers and judges should not give in to populist quick fixes that only limit the justice system's capacity to enforce the law.
"The state largely derives its authority from the public's confidence in police to maintain security, and the courts to deliver justice", says Robert Templer, Crisis Group's Asia Program Director. "The international community can help shore up an increasingly fragile Pakistan by shifting the focus of its security assistance away from the military and toward civilian law enforcement agencies and criminal prosecution".