Report 196 / Asia 06 December 2010 Reforming Pakistan’s Criminal Justice System 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. Share Facebook Twitter Email Linkedin Whatsapp Save Print Download PDF Full Report (en) Executive Summary The ineffectiveness of Pakistan’s criminal justice system has serious repercussions for domestic, regional and international security. Given the gravity of internal security challenges, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government in Islamabad, and the four provincial governments should make the reform of an anarchic criminal justice sector a top domestic priority. The low conviction rate, between 5 and 10 per cent at best, is unsurprising in a system where investigators are poorly trained and lack access to basic data and modern investigation tools. Prosecutors, also poorly trained, are not closely involved in investigations. Corruption, intimidation and external interference in trials, including by the military’s intelligence agencies, compromise cases before they even come to court. 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. Terrorism cases, too, produce few convictions. The failure of prosecutors to achieve 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, has weakened public confidence in the state’s ability to respond to terrorism. Despite the increasing urgency of reform, 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. A military-led counter-terrorism effort, defined by haphazard and heavy-handed force against some militant networks, short-sighted peace deals with others, and continued support to India and Afghanistan-oriented jihadi groups, has yielded few successes. Instead, the extremist rot has spread to most of the country. The military’s tactics of long-term detentions, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings provoke public resentment and greater instability, undermining the fight against violent extremism. Wresting civilian control over counter-terrorism policy, a key challenge of the current democratic transition, will require massive investments in police and prosecutors, specifically to enhance investigative capacity and case building. Successes in combating serious crime, including kidnappings-for-ransom and sectarian terrorism, during the democratic transition of the 1990s demonstrate that civilian law enforcement agencies can be effective when properly authorised and equipped. With the scale of violence far greater today, the government needs all the more to utilise political and fiscal capital to modernise the criminal justice sector. Criminal justice cannot, however, 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. General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamisation of the constitution and laws during the 1980s altered the basic structure of parliamentary democracy, introduced religious, sectarian and gender biases into law and made the violation of fundamental rights not just common practice but a matter of state policy. As a result, Pakistan moved farther and farther away from international standards of justice. The current parliament has, through the eighteenth constitutional amendment, reversed many of these distortions and added new provisions that, if implemented, may indeed strengthen constitutionalism and political stability. More legal reforms are needed. Discriminatory religious laws remain in force, and the justice system is still predisposed towards miscarriage. In May 2009, the National Judicial (Policy Making) Committee (NJPC), headed by the Supreme Court chief justice, produced the National Judicial Policy (NJP) 2009 to make the justice system more responsive to citizen needs. The policy applies enormous pressures on civil and criminal courts to resolve cases within a fixed timeframe. However, with a lopsided emphasis on speedier delivery, the NJP has failed to address critical weaknesses in the judiciary, including the criminal justice system. An already low conviction rate could decline even further. While slow delivery remains a critical problem, policymakers should avoid resorting to quick fixes and procedural short-cuts such as parallel court systems and informal dispute resolution mechanisms. Such measures, including anti-terrorism courts, have failed to produce the desired results, and have also undermined the quality of justice. An enhanced and reformed criminal justice sector remains the best and only sustainable option. International allies, particularly the U.S. and the EU, should allocate the necessary resources to make Pakistan a strong criminal justice partner. A lopsided partnership with Pakistan’s military has yielded few sustainable counter-terrorism successes. Al-Qaeda affiliated jihadi groups continue to operate in the Pakistani heartland, undermining the country’s security and the security of its neighbours and the international community more broadly. The international community must shift the focus of security assistance to the civilian law enforcement agencies, which would yield long-term counter-terrorism dividends. Islamabad/Brussels, 6 December 2010 Related Tags Pakistan More for you Commentary / Asia A Change of Command and Political Contestation in Pakistan Q&A / Asia Pakistan: Plunging into Chaos?