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SCBA Rejects Criminal Law Reforms, Citing Lack of Consultation

by Newsweek Pakistan

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Government claims draft of legislation was shared with all legal bodies but they have yet to provide any input on its provisions

The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) on Thursday rejected a slate of criminal justice reforms proposed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government, claiming the legal fraternity had not been consulted prior to its drafting.

In response, the federal government has “vehemently” rejected the SCBA’s assertions, claiming it had shared a draft of the proposed legislation with the Pakistan Bar Council, all provincial bar councils, SCBA and all high court bar associations but they had failed to provide any input.

The reforms proposed by the PTI envision amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Qanoon-e-Shahadat (law of evidence), the Pakistan Penal Code and other relevant laws to reduce the lengthy trial process and introduce the use of modern technology for investigations. Approved by the federal cabinet earlier this week, the reforms have been hailed by Prime Minister Imran Khan as necessary to ensure speedy justice.

In a statement, SCBA President Mohammad Ahsan Bhoon took direct aim at Law Minister Farogh Naseem, saying the lawmaker had once again shown the dearth of his knowledge about law, and had “effectively demonstrated his inability, as well as the capacity in his team.” He said the government should initiate consultations with all stakeholders to ensure any legal reforms were efficient, resourceful and cost-effective.

In its rejoinder, the government noted that it had shared the draft of the legislation with all relevant legal entities but they had failed to submit any replies. The law minister, in a separate statement, said that their silence had been perceived as “consent” and if they had concerns about the document, they were free to air their grievances.

“Those who are opposing these reforms are not sincere with people of Pakistan, in particular the weaker segments of the society,” he said. “These so-called critics are either inept or not honest with their own country rather they are favoring the forces of status quo by desiring the existing ineffective system of criminal justice to continue in its current shape; where they can easily manipulate the litigants and their fates,” he added.

Under the proposed draft, a nine-month deadline has been proposed for all criminal trials, with trial court judges required to explain any delays to the relevant high court. It also suggests a Rs. 1 million fine for “frivolous” complaints, and allows for plea bargains to help reduce the case load on judges so long as the offense does not entail the death penalty, life imprisonment or jail terms exceeding 7 years.

The law also allows for the submission of audio and video evidence, and seeks all police officers who head police stations to be college graduates. It suggests blocking any identification of absconders but allows for courts to unblock them if they appear for hearings.

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