Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Policing the police

Saturday April 10, 2004-- Safar 19, 1425 A.H. Published in The News
ISSN 1563-9479


Policing the police

Afzal A Shigri

Police Reforms were introduced through a new law on 14th August 2002 that is yet to be implemented. There is a resistance to change the police culture by the political governments, civil bureaucracy and sadly mid level police leadership. The President therefore chaired a meeting on the subject recently and another meeting is scheduled later this month. The purpose of these meetings is to review the progress of implementation of the reforms. Instead the provinces came up with the old and oft repeated objections to dismantle the law and reverse the reform process that creates a system of checks and balance to eliminate extraneous interference in police and provides strong mechanism for accountability of police.

An effective and efficient police is required to maintain order and provide security to the common man. Police is essentially a civilian establishment that is solely answerable to the civil authority for all its actions and functions within clearly defined legal parameters. There can be no modern state without a civilian police organisation. In order to carry out its duties and meet its responsibilities police has to be vested with necessary powers for enforcement of law and maintenance of order in the society. There is always a genuine fear that after vesting police with such powers that should "police the police". In Pakistan we inherited a criminal justice system that was geared to only maintain order and protect the interest of the empire. It gave vast powers to police and also provided a magisterial cover through the institution of district magistrate

While this flawed system survived, the common man continued to suffer at the hands of police as there was no meaningful system of their accountability. Putting together a strong mechanism of accountability without compromising professional and operational autonomy of police posed a challenge, as any imbalance would have either resulted in an ineffective system of accountability or a weak law enforcement structure. NRB after intense consultations and discussions came up with a plan that addresses all the vital areas of concern about the accountability of police and meshes with the local government plan. It simultaneously provides an effective check against misuse of police by the executive. Similar systems have been developed in all the advanced countries. UK has a well-established Police Complaint Authority. Japan has the Public Safety Commission that oversees the police forces. Canada and USA has Citizens Boards and Police Authorities that keep a cheek on police on behalf of the civil society. South Africa has established an independent complaints directorate that holds the police accountable.

Under the Police 2002 the concept of external accountability has been provided. The new law has been crafted in a manner that it holds police accountable at all levels of its operations and creates a fine balance that also protects police from extraneous interference that has been the bane of our law enforcing machinery and has frustrated all previous efforts for police reforms

The concept of accountability in the new police law has also been dealt with in a broader term and is not confined to punishing the police only for public complaints. It re-defines the role of the police, creates new management systems and holds the entire police force accountable for performing its duties efficiently strictly within the ambit of law. The role of the police has been transformed from that of force to public service. The duties of police have been drastically changed and even their attitude has been defined, as they are required to behave with the members of the public with due decorum and courtesy and provide relief to the citizens in distress situations. The police have provided strict punishments in the law for any misconduct or failure to perform its duties. For example a police officer can be sentenced to imprisonment for five years for vexatious arrest, search or entry into premises.

An elaborate system of accountability has been built by creating a number of institutional structures. The public safety commissions at the national, provincial and district level are empowered to monitor and review the implementation of the policing plan which in effect becomes a continuing performance audit and obliges the police to adhere to the annual policing plan and achieve the targets indicated in the plan. These safety commissions also have a say in the posting and removal of a police officers in the key operational assignments. On the other hand the commissions have the vital responsibility to insulate the police from any extraneous interference in the performance of its duties.

The Zila Nazim and the district public safety commissions have specific powers to take cognisance of any complaints against the police officers. The Zila Nazim in case of public complaints can direct the District police officer to take disciplinary action including registration of a case against errant police officer. The Safety Commission functions as a full-fledged complaint authority in the district. At the national and the provincial level the commissions can take action for removal of the head of the police establishment. The involvement of the commissions ensures the participation in the whole process by the members of the civil society as well as the elected representatives as these commissions comprise of elected members of assemblies/councils and members of civil society.

High-powered police complaints authorities have been provided at the national and provincial levels. These complaints authorities consist of eminent persons of standing in the society with skills and knowledge as specified by the government. They are appointed on the recommendation of the public service commissions. These members have enormous powers to initiate action on the complaints against police, order inquiry and supervise their progress. In cases of death, rape, or serious injury in police custody they would initiate action for a judicial inquiry by the district and session judge.

In order to create an effective check on the complaints of illegal confinements the writ jurisdiction of habeas corpus has been delegated to the District and sessions judges. The judiciary also has now a new role to play, as they have to interact with the police without the institution of district magistrate. The enabling provision for providing a forum for holding the police accountable for speedy and timely trial of the cases, a criminal justice co-ordination committee has been credited in a district. The district and session judge head the committee. This committee keeps under review the operation of the criminal justice system and ensures that all players n the system are made answerable for an inordinate delay in trial of the cases.

Police is thus made accountable to the elected representatives, civil society, judiciary and independent complaints authorities. This is over and above the internal accountability of police by its own hierarchy. This internal accountability has also been made effective by delegation of administrative powers to police command. The rationale for enhancement of the powers of the head of the police and the other officers at the command level is the principle of combination of responsibility with authority. Police is now solely responsible for its duties including a meaningful internal accountability. In this entire arrangement a very fine balance has been in built by ensuring that the executive head of the government at any level cannot give illegal orders to the police command. The professional and administrative duties have been on purpose de-linked from the accountability of the police relating to public complaints

This law even before implementation is again being subjected to review on the request of the provinces the desire is to have unfettered and complete control over police. It is hoped that better sense will prevail and no changes will be made in this law unless it is fully implemented on ground, tested and reviewed after at least two years that will bring out its weakness and strengths and we would be able to base our conclusions on reliable data instead of skewed opinions or narrow political interests. One small change in this law will open the flood gates for bringing extensive amendments with very negative impact on the entire new arrangement of governance under devolution plan which was introduced by the government after due deliberations and extensive consultations.

The writer is a retired Inspector General Police