LAHORE: The state, the police, the law and the general public are all to blame for the lack of rule of law in Pakistan, according to legal and law enforcement experts.

The World Justice Project on Thursday released its first Rule of Law Index report, which ranked world governments in categories such as absence of corruption, clear and stable laws, open government and access to the justice system. Among the 35 countries surveyed, Pakistan was ranked at the bottom of nearly every category. The report profiled 1,000 respondents in Karachi, Lahore, and Faisalabad.

Lawyers and policemen in Lahore say governments have done little to enforce the rule of law in Pakistan. “It is a distant dream due to the historic lack of constitutional governance,” said Raza Rumi, a Lahore-based policy expert.

“The dysfunctional institution of justice has meant the courts are overburdened and little reform, if any, has taken place over the last 60 odd years. The police have lost public confidence and are also victims of terrorism. But then there has been no prosecution, consequently criminal offences don’t get punished.”

Asad Jamal, a leading advocate based in Lahore, said human rights were routinely abused in anti-terror prosecutions. “The issue is that the state is the biggest violator of the rule of law,” he said. The number of petitions in the courts regarding missing people and forced disappearances showed how much the state subverted the legal system.

Jamal also criticised the police. He said police officers were not trained and leadership positions in the police tended to go to those who lacked the education to deal with the problems.

Additional Advocate General Jawad Hassan told The Express Tribune that the Chief Justice movement was a major breakthrough for the rule of law, but there were still problems with the case load, particularly in the lower courts. “This burden has led to the High Court being used as a civil court, a job that it should not be doing,” he said.

About justice on a local level, he said the Punjab government’s new set of prosecutors were good lawyers with experience in the private sector. “Hopefully they will make a difference in the case pendency,” he said.

Hassan also criticised the police, saying they were unable to handle basic tasks such as gathering and processing evidence. “This has a hugely significant impact on conviction rates,” he said.

A high-ranking police official said it was unfair just to blame the police. “The instinct at government meetings is that when crime rises, blame the police. Every time this issue arises they request more training and exercises for the police,” he said.

He said that it was easy to get into the blame game. “In the same manner, the police also blame the courts for not having quality prosecutors,” he added.

“The real issue is that this is a British system. The rules have to be changed and this burden falls on the bureaucracy and the parliament,” he said. There is no long-term vision for the force and its methods, he said.

Another problem was the lack of a sense of civic duty among the population, compounded by unenforceable laws. For example, he said, witnesses would often agree to testify only when it suited them.

“In other countries it’s part of their duty to help a case,” he said. “Here, the laws are a long way from the ground realities and the masses don’t consider themselves part of the system; it’s a free for all.”

Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2010.

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