LHC asks FIA to handle torture, death and rape cases in custody

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LAHORE: Taking exception to the non-implementation of `The Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Act, 2022`, the Lahore High Court has ordered the immediate transfer of all cases under investigation of custodial torture, death, or rape to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).

`The failure to implement a law due to negligence, inaction, or indifference by public functionaries, resulting in the violation of fundamental rights, cannot be ignored by this court, Justice Ali Zia Bajwa observed in a judgment, which issues guidelines for the government to enforce the 2022 Act.

The judge noted that the FIA enjoys exclusive jurisdiction to investigate, under the supervision of the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), complaints against any public official accused of committing offenses.

He emphasized that the vital duty of the commission has been neglected, resulting in a profound miscarriage of justice in countless cases. He said the legislative intent behind the conferment of significant powers upon the commission was to ensure a vigilant and proactive stance against human rights violations.

Justice Bajwa observed that since the police are devoid of jurisdiction to investigate cases pertaining to allegations of custodial torture, deaths, and rapes, `all cases of custodial torture, deaths, and rapes currently under investigation, and registered after the promulgation of the Act of 2022, shall forthwith be transferred to the Agency for the purpose of investigation by the Provincial Police Officer without fail.

In the future, the judge said, if police receive any complaints regarding custodial torture, death, or rape, such matters shall be promptly referred to the FIA to initiate proceedings swiftly in the spirit of the law.

`The police, having no jurisdiction to investigate such cases, ought not to drag their feet on these complaints,` the judge maintained. The judge also ordered that all such cases registered after the promulgation of the 2022 Act, pending trial before any other court, shall be transferred to the court of sessions for trial.

The judge ordered the government’s lawyers to formally bring the issue of implementation of the 2022 Act to the attention of the Chief Minister of Punjab and the Federal Minister for Interior.

He instructed the office to dispatch a copy of the judgment to the Chairperson of the NCHR and the Director General of the FIA.

Justice Bajwa further ordered the government to undertake all necessary measures to ensure comprehensive publicity of the provisions of the 2022 Act among the masses. The judge had taken notice of the non-implementation of the law while hearing a petition of a woman seeking recovery of her brother-in-law and nephew from the custody of the Manga Mandi police.

The police, when summoned, told the court that both men had been killed in an encounter and buried without any knowledge of their heirs.

Justice Bajwa said it was a harrowing situation where the detainees were killed in an alleged police encounter under suspicious circumstances, and their bodies were buried instead of being handed over to legal heirs.

`Such flagrant brutality on the part of the police officials could not be swept under the rug. The above situation emerged as a textbook case of police atrocities and high-handedness,` he wrote in his judgment.

Acknowledgement: Published in Dawn News on 1st June 2024.

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