The Criminal Justice System of Pakistan: A duplicitous affair

Dr. Shakir Shahid, a forensic criminologist points out the duplicitous nature of the criminal justice system. Where the 'elitist' mentality, which permeates the criminal justice service protects the elite and punishes the poor. The police, prosecutor, courts and prisons, and corrections systems must be reformed to ensure truly sustainable management of crime.


“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” was the proclamation made by pigs controlling the government of the “animal farm”. Other animals might have no objection over the declaration.

Still, from a ‘global sustainability perspective,’ it’s seriously unethical to leak out government secrets, and especially when such secrets are equally sacred for the ‘civilized’ human societies also.

Though it is a display of rawness on the part of these ‘animal pigs’ to talk so publicly about fundamentals of government policy; in a sense, it is heart soothing. In this mortal world, a new group of animal kingdom ‘pigs’ also stand by ‘humans’ in the struggle for upholding cherished values of equality in the ‘true sense’.

Read more: Pakistan’s biggest issue is rule of law not corruption

Humans, being the most ardent advocates of values, have enshrined this principle of equality in all systems, especially the justice systems, which they designed to run their society.

A central part of the actual philosophy of justice systems is that every human is treated equally, regardless of his or her colour, creed, gender, race, and class. However, like many good ideas, the reality is different from the rhetoric. A classic and easy to observe an example of this disparity is the criminal justice system.

The criminal justice system is a set of practices and institutions of governments directed at deterring and mitigating the crime for social control or punishing those who violate laws, and rehabilitating the convicts.

Generally, four essential elements constitute a criminal justice system viz. police, prosecution, courts, and jails or corrections. Parole and probation departments work in coordination with prisons or corrections.

Not only prisons are the tool of social control, which is proven and in practice since colonial days, but these are also acting as institutes of crime learning

The police not only maintain public order by enforcing the law but also make investigations. In most common law countries, including Pakistan, courts adopt the adversarial processes as legal procedure. Generally, there are four jurisdictions for punishment: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and societal protection.

Police: frontline workers perpetuating elite structure

The police department, which is the first leg of the criminal justice system, is a classic example of a sub-system which is systematically positioned to display the double standards while dealing with the rich and the poor. Where there exist considerable disparities in the internal structure of police, the police is also poised to act differentially toward wealthy elites and poor non-elites due to its structural design.

Many officers of superior ranks already come from privileged sections of society, and many from the remaining portion join the elite circles on a functional or structural basis. Hence, it’s no surprise that due to this anatomical pattern, the police establishment is generally physiologically friendly to the elites.

Additionally, it’s unrealistic to expect neutrality from an organization whose various components owe their origins from unequally levelled grounds. The unfair nature of the entrance exams which breed such “mini philosopher kings” of superior ranks is enough to predict the future course of its progeny.

Read more: AJK Judiciary: Why not treat it with same respect as in Pakistan?

The pro-elite attitude of the police is visible in many of its working patterns. It’s interesting to observe that during campaigns like “war on drugs” the “war” is generally waged against users belonging to marginalized poor sections.

Though it’s another dilemma that during this war campaign, when chronic addicts are impounded, they have to be provided with drugs too to save them from dying. However, when they reach jails, then some other mafias start taking care of their requirements. Another example of the discriminatory character of the criminal justice system is its attitude toward prostitution.

Online internet market is teeming with advertisements about sexual services, and every nook and corner of cities have become supply points. However, police are systematically prevented from intervening, as, by design, prostitution is a way of social control wherein the poor are used as a commodity.

Furthermore, what more proof of double standards in the criminal justice system is required; when good quality liquors are available on the shelves in posh hotels and motels, which are exclusive to the elite class. At the same time, discriminatory ‘ghosthunters’ are always ready to haunt the customers of cheap liquors in the name of law enforcement.

Read more: Child abuse & Public Hanging: Whose dignity matters?

Staged encounters are another classic example of the double standards prevalent in the criminal justice system. As per design police are all alert to nab, arrest, and investigate the criminals if they are from poor sections of society.

So much blanket approval is available to police to kill these wanted criminals if they “attack police to snatch their fellow criminals”. Sometimes this death cycle imposed upon the criminals becomes a bit complex.

First, they are brainwashed to serve the interests of elites, and when the purpose is served then by changing their collar tags, they are hunted down for maintaining peace and prosperity. The way they are used as guinea pigs in various political laboratories run by elites, speaks volumes about the criminal justice system; it is not just for dealing with criminals but practically like a neo-feudalistic tool in operation to suppress the whole poor class from where most of the criminals originate.

Read more: Policing Dilemma: Reform or control?

While on the other hand, the thugs and killers belonging to the influential class despite being caught red-handed can get clean chits from one of the different tiers of this very “just” criminal justice system.

Procedural methods favoring the Elite

Procedural methods employed by the criminal justice system are another arena wherein its discriminatory nature is exhibited even more vividly. In the adversarial system, which is prevalent in most of the common law countries, the responsibility of facts finding rests with the case parties and their lawyers.

On the contrary, in the inquisitorial system, the judge endeavours to discover the facts while simultaneously representing the interests of the state in a trial. The adversarial system of the legal process not only adds the burden of expenses on the poverty-stricken fellows but also affords ample opportunities to the “haves” to win more frequently as they are more likely to engage better lawyers and arrange superior material resources.

Read more: Myth of Police Reforms

Disposal of various criminal cases related to real estate tycoons and other wealthy people speak enough about the favourable tilting of the criminal justice system toward the rich ones. But when it’s a matter of poor people, then they can even be hanged before the disposal of appeals.

The bail system available to the accused, which is money and property-based, is another classic example of the discrimination that wealth can induce in a criminal justice system. This not only accords favour to the rich but also makes it clear that not every accused but only the privileged charged is the favourite child of the law and procedure operating in the criminal justice system.

There are many examples wherein plaintiffs or witnesses were killed in courtyards by on-bail accused murderers, and the case files became part of dust-laden records forever. On the other hand, some people charged with petty crimes were kept languishing in jails because they could not provide money or property as a guarantee for bail.

Read more: Life Imprisonment in Pakistan: Life or 25 Years?

Parole and probation is another completely unprobed and uncharted territory where the remaining facilities and luxuries are available to the influential convicts under various clauses in ‘larger’ interest of the justice.

Jails: Institutes of crime learning

Composition of the jail population is another manifestation of the duplicate character of the criminal justice system. The whole philosophy of punishments awarded to the poor is jail centric. These are the end resting places for those whose primary crime is poverty or who dare to challenge the dominant classes.

Read more: Inequality: A Political Choice?

Despite a much-discussed plethora of lofty ideas to rehabilitate the criminals, the prisons are still named as jails instead of corrections. Not only prisons are the tool of social control, which is proven and in practice since colonial days, but these are also acting as institutes of crime learning.

The frequency of recidivism tells that jails are least bothered to apply any policy for rehabilitation of the convicts. There is no mechanism in place to facilitate the social inclusion of the convicts released from jail instead all opportunities are available for them to join the running crime rackets and rings as active or sleeping partners, or to start their enterprise by enlisting their jail inmates. Records of police investigation reports are witness to this phenomenon.

Given the foregone, it appears that by just apprehending, encountering, convicting, or killing a criminal, the job would not be done. To prosecute a person who is already persecuted by a mega-matrix of systems unleashing a spectrum of criminogenic forces might have been accepted as a quick-fix in primitive societies.

The police department, which is the first leg of the criminal justice system, is a classic example of a sub-system which is systematically positioned to display the double standards while dealing with the rich and the poor

Still, it does not suit the consciousness of a person who is developed, informed, civilized and enlightened. Not only is this abhorrent to a conscientious soul to see humans first becoming victims of criminogenic forces and then becoming victims of systems in the name of justice but it also is a fallacy from the perspective of sustainable management of crime.

Developmental trajectories of crimino-genesis tell that the happening of crime is a much more complex phenomenon. In addition to persons having criminal propensities a whole new arena of “crime inducing situations” is even more important to handle for sustainable management of crime which is only criminal and victim-centric so far.

Read more: Police Service: Challenges & Reforms

Hence an integrated approach catering towards all agents, tiers and processes involved in the performance of a crime should be adopted while reforming the criminal justice system.

In the context of all forgone how delightful and prophetic are the words of Friedrich Nietzsche in his book ‘Human, All Too Human’ that “our crime against criminals lies in the fact that we treat them like rascals.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed are my personal, and do not necessarily reflect the view of my department of employment. Some errors in the write-up are intentional, and few might be due to lack of perfection on my part.

Dr. Shakir Ahmad Shahid, PhD, PSP, is a Postdoct Fulbright Alumnus in Criminology and Forensic Science, who has served in various fields like policing, investigation, intelligence and counter-terrorism on policy and operational levels as a senior police officer. He has also worked in fields of education, investment and rural development as a civil servant, and in the field of agriculture as a farmer. Dr. Shahid holds the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry with research publications in fields of bio-materials, bio-energy, polymers and forensic spectroscopy. He also holds the degrees of Master in Psychology, M.Sc Chemistry, L.L.B, and B.Sc (Biology), along with qualifications in fields of crime management, police command, public administration, international law, history, forestry, and agriculture. He can be reached at

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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