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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Punishing rapists: lessons learnt from motorway rape case

The author discusses in detail the lessons learnt from the motorway rape case and how it emphasizes the gaps in the criminal justice system of Pakistan. According to the author, the case may be used as a template for future investigations, prosecutions and adjudications by trying to draw workable lessons from it to further reform the criminal justice system. 

In Pakistan, society’s relationship to public policy is essentially emotional; the domain of criminal justice policy is no exception. There is hardly any discussion on sex crimes, especially rape and its species of offences, in the normal course of things.

The reaction of the society is very strong and prompt, however, if and when a sex crime in the nature of rape takes place and gets publicized and followed up by media leading to quick action by the criminal justice system as a whole.

The infamous Motorway rape case, as it is now known, like earlier incidents of similar nature, brought home the realization that the criminal justice system in Pakistan needs to be reformed and the public is to be reassured of safety and security.

Read more: A timeline of the motorway gang-rape

The admirable emergency response 

On aggressive media outcry, all the components of the criminal justice system responded to the Motorway rape case. The unsecured space of the newly developed motorway that was not being policed earlier was secured overnight and all the bureaucratic wrangling on its legalese came to an abrupt end.

Provincial police i.e. the Punjab Police secured the crime scene and the highly trained staff of the Punjab Forensic Science Agency collected the evidence. The police prosecution cooperation that is now the bedrock of successful prosecutions was noticeable right at the outset.

Read more: Op-ed: Punjab Police deserves commendation for solving motorway rape case

The media complied with the guidelines on gender-based violence cases and kept the confidentiality of the victim intact. The judge administered the case professionally and interpreted the law stringently and believed and weighed favourably the efforts undertaken by the police, prosecution, forensic experts and medico-legal staff.

The criminal justice system, in this case, at least came to the fore to support the rule of law paradigm and evinced the best of it. With all these positive sides, the case left much to be desired.

For example, the use of the offence of ‘kidnapping for ransom’ to attract the jurisdiction of the anti-terrorism case is likely to get attacked further in the appeal process and during the pending confirmation of the murder reference as the sentencing has ended up in imposing death sentences.

Nevertheless, the case may be used as a template for future investigations, prosecutions and adjudications by trying to draw workable lessons from it to further reform the criminal justice system.

Read more: Motorway incident reveals years of injustice

Creating team spirit

The team spirit between the government agencies like police, prosecution, doctors, forensic experts and home department should be cemented further as no state case can be worked out without the synergy of all these agencies.

Most often than not, the standard way in the public sector is to work at cross purposes; this invariably brings the most prominent and visible agency i.e. police into disrepute and an unending blame game.

Read more: ‘Man of society’: Murad Saeed says he takes full responsibility for motorway rape case

Government should, besides constituting, joint investigation teams, consider establishing joint management teams in such cases with treating them in a manner that all team members should know that they will rise and fall together.

The media must also be applauded for voluntarily abiding by the guidelines and the law on confidentiality of the victim. In return, media should also credit the police, first responders, senior police, health and home department leadership for working together and assigning a pseudonym and invoking witness protection law at the very outset to ensure that confidentiality of the victim’s name is fully guarded.

Role of legal bodies

The judge using his vast powers under the code of criminal procedure allowed that the victim’s identity and medical evidence are weighed heavily on the strength of the statement of the medico-legal officer.

This was great support and was mustered by applying the same legal framework that is considered archaic and that is seldom put to use. By using the age-old technique of interpretation of the law, the judge extended all the support that is required in such cases.

Read more: Ineptness of the law is a crime which is most devastating: Of rapes and the society

The role of prosecution as a coordinator between different public sector agencies is inbuilt in this case. The prosecutor advises police and at the same time being a law officer of the court can advise all other government agencies to work in tandem. The potential of the prosecution department should be fully explored.

The case was completed in record time. Due process was adhered to by granting the right to defence to the accused. The administrative powers of judges should further be strengthened enabling them to manage pre-trial and trial proceedings effectively.

Importance of technology

The government needs to invest heavily in medico-legal machinery, which is as important as police and forensics. Convictions and maximum punishments could not have secured without a professional collection of medico-legal evidence.

Unfortunately, academia in medicine and law do not work closely enough to foster an inter-disciplinary discourse and mutual cooperation in working to improve the conditions of the medico-legal profession is almost totally absent.

Read more: Role of DNA Evidence in rape cases

The use of information technology was pivotal in this case in more than one ways. Initially, it helped in the biggest breakthrough of the case i.e. identifying the accused. In a blind case having a similar set of circumstances, the rate of success is not very high.

In the instant case, mobile data became the basic tool of investigation. It helped in connecting dots through mobile locations, connected mobile numbers and identifying registered user and actual user of the sims being used in the mobiles of the identified accused.

In addition, the digitalization drive of criminal data of Punjab championed by many police officers yielded results as the main accused was a repeat offender and had a criminal record that helped maximize the information on the accused.

Read more: Motorway gang-rape: Is death penalty the solution to crimes against women?

Lastly, there is a need to archive successful cases and to educate the public at large that despite serious holes in the whole justice system, the societal and governmental wills can together bring in the desired results.

National security is as much endogenous as exogenous and investing in the criminal justice system by new reforms can contribute towards much-required peace and security in the whole country.

Kamran Adil is currently serving as Deputy Inspector General of Police. He studied law at Oxford University and writes and lectures on international law. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.