Is There Hope For Victims In This Criminal Justice System?
“I don’t want to die before I get justice.” These are the words of Kainat Soomro, a rape survivor awaiting justice. She has been a victim twice. She has suffered the crime of rape, and now she is also victim to our criminal justice system, which has denied her justice.
Our criminal justice system is insensitive to victims of crime. Legal lacunae and glaring loopholes perpetuate a system of injustice that generates more and more injustice. A victim of crime in Pakistan ends up suffering even more at the hands of the criminal justice mechanism, which tends to prod the victim as the primary suspect. The empathy expected of any developed criminal justice system is absent in Pakistan. Most heinous crimes thus go unreported. People do not trust the system to work and to dispense justice. Delay in dispensation is another major reason many complainants are discouraged to report the crime in the first place.
The criminal justice system, as it currently exists in Pakistan, isolates the victim. He or she is not made a part of the proceeding, and is never kept abreast of developments by the prosecution. During the proceeding of a murder case in the High Court of Sindh, Pakistan, the father of a young lawyer, who was kidnapped and later killed by his neighbour, said, “you need to have a pocket of gold and feet of steel to continue with criminal proceedings”.
The crime of the criminal justice system is that it does not protect the victim; rather, its intrinsic vulnerabilities make it impossible for the victim to expect protection or justice. The system has inbuilt loopholes that allow perpetrators to get away, leaving the poor victim in the lurch. The injustice perpetuated in the name of justice makes it impractical for the victim or heir to seek redressal. This, in turn, breeds vengeance against the system. Today we are witnessing an increase in hate crime against law enforcement and even the judiciary.
The sad reality is depicted in our popular culture as well: the protagonist is often portrayed as a gun-yielding alpha male who takes law into his own hand and brings people justice, while the cop is often shown as the bad guy, corrupt to the bone, hated by all. When the mind-set of the general populace is such, anarchy and chaos is a natural outcome.
Multiple news channels and their sensationalist reporting further aggravate the victims’ vulnerability. Victims’ right to dignity and privacy is an immediate concern that is not addressed by the judiciary or regulatory authorities. For example, in case of rape, the victim has to endure public and media trial. Too often, the victim and the victim’s actions get highlighted, while the alleged rapist gets left un-discussed.
The prosecutor, being a state agent, and due to the lack of adequate legal aid, is forced to act as the lawyer for the victim. Being overburdened and overworked, the prosecutor is unable and unwilling to take the victims into confidence in their own case. The victims are generally not conversant with the legal nuances and are not aware of their rights. They are only informed of the development of the case through court notices. The victim thus becomes an illegitimate child in the whole proceeding that no one wants to deal with.
The Corruption Perception Index (CPI) each year shows the police to be the most corrupt institution in Pakistan. There is no sign of improvement (although the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Police is said to be working actively towards efficiency the results of the effort are yet to be seen). The Motorway Police are often cited as a success story of police reforms. The officials of the Motorway Police are free from any political intervention or pressure and are given the latest training and paraphernalia to ensure smooth functioning of the motorways.
A lack of political will is the basic reason why police reforms have not been enacted; the political parties treat the police force as their private guards and/or mercenaries to settle scores with political opponents. The lower judiciary, too, where all the evidence are supposed to be presented and examined on the scale of equity, often fails to evaluate the circumstantial evidence and accounts of victims and witnesses.
A demoralized police and prosecution often drag their feet when it comes to investigation. The victim reporting the crime is the first suspect the police interrogate. The interrogation begins with the victim, adding insult to injury, the modus operandi of the police officials, who make it a point to subject the poor victim to mental torture. Rape victims are a prime example of such treatment. In such a system, where perpetrators invariably get away with their crime, it is easier and convenient to blame the victim for “inciting” or “provoking” a certain reaction.
Ms. Kainat Soomro, a thirteen-year-old girl was gang raped by four men and declared a kari. She refused to be resigned to her fate and decided to pursue criminal proceeding against her rapists. Kainat’s father was, however, rebuffed by the police for reporting a crime that has brought shame to his family. Kainat’s brother was killed a month after the court ruling, for having defended his sister during the ordeal. The Sessions Court acquitted all four of the accused men due to lack of evidence. Kainat filed a petition in the Sindh High Court, and it has taken two years for the hearing to finally begin. The accused remained at large, and have only recently been found. The case is still pending before the Court since 2010.
For a victim in Pakistan, where the police, shelter homes, NGOs, hospitals, and medico-legal officers’ work in isolation, reporting an offence is not a one-window operation. In Pakistan, first responders on the scene of a crime often fail to make a distinction between the victim and accused. The National Assembly was recently informed that 1.7 million cases were pending in the courts. Many of these pertain to non-registration of an FIR, the first stepping-stone of a criminal proceeding. The registration of an FIR rests at the whims of the SHO who may or may not deem the complaint worthy of being registered.
If this is the case, the only recourse available to the victim then is to approach the court for registration of the FIR. The flip side of this is that court permission is also sought to close even a false case. This overburdens courts and hinders the process of criminal trial. Precious court time is wasted in trying those that have nothing to do with crime and in disposal of cancellation (discharge) reports. On the other hand, thousands of prisoners are languishing in jails with no conclusion of their trial in sight. This is one of the major reasons behind police reluctance in Pakistan to register FIR. In Pakistan the state institutions often do not trust each other. There is a serious lack of cohesion among institutions, particularly the law enforcement and judiciary.
Police investigation methods are found to be faulty and concocted, thus becoming inadmissible in a court of law. The prosecution, for its part, relies heavily on police investigation and has no mechanism to conduct an independent inquiry. The judiciary, too, suffers from immense backlog of cases pending for years. Redressal thus becomes a distant dream for victims who die waiting for justice.
Pakistan’s criminal justice system isn’t known for rehabilitation of the victim; this is an alien concept in Pakistan. Perhaps it is impractical to expect an advanced concept in a criminal justice system that is on the verge of collapse.
If there is to be any dignity, police interrogation of victims should be done in a friendly manner; the victims may be interviewed but not interrogated. Victims’ right to dignity and privacy is an immediate concern that needs to be addressed. To ensure this, investigators, prosecutors, judges, lawyers, and journalists need to be sensitized. Specific legislation to address victims’ rights must also be enacted. Victim support strategies should be adopted to ensure no crime goes unreported.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which she might be associated.