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SHC laments police, prosecution treating gender-based violence cases casually

Jamal Khurshid
Thursday, Dec 01, 2022

The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Wednesday took exception to casual treatment of gender-based violence cases by the investigation and prosecution and observed that the provincial government and police must make all efforts to increase its capacity in investigation and prosecution of such gender-based crimes.

Pointing out deficiencies of investigation and prosecution in a gender-based violence case in its judgment on an appeal of a convict in the wife murder case, a single bench of the SHC headed by Justice Omer Sial observed that it had been noticed by the court with concern in many cases that the police lacked the specific investigation skills, training or the mindset to deal with the gender-based crimes.

The high court observed that it appeared that our criminal justice system had not met with much success in its effort to redress the structural inequities, biases, stereotypes and discrimination that had encouraged violence against women on grounds of tradition and culture.

The bench observed that investigators did not look at such cases from a gender lens and in most cases of violence against women, the police did not gather meaningful evidence and seemed to treat such cases casually.

The SHC observed that such a conduct was even more pronounced in cases connected to honour killings where no family members of either the victim or the perpetrator were ready to testify. The judge added that the modus operandi of such crimes was known to all in the criminal justice system.

The high court observed that lethal violence against women and girls in their house looked to be a more difficult problem to solve than killings of women and girls outside. The bench noted in its judgment that one of the most extreme examples of gender-based violence was the murder of women and girls by intimate partners or other family members — people they would typically be expected to trust.

The high court observed that these murders frequently resulted from earlier instances of gender-based violence, which could involve psychological, sexual and physical assault. The bench observed that the killing of an intimate partner was the ultimate betrayal of trust within a family, and furthermore, this kind of killing had consequences far beyond the immediate victims, for example, the children in many cases were left with one parent dead and the other in prison.

The SHC observed that the prosecution had failed in most such cases because of the police failing to collect meaningful evidence. The high court noted that conventional, unscientific and archaic investigation techniques, which were often tainted with a chauvinistic mindset, would not suffice for gender-based crimes as most of such crimes were carried out in private.

The high court observed that it became even more necessary that circumstantial evidence was collected, preserved and presented diligently, comprehensively and immediately in such cases. The bench observed that the investigators must also be trained in adopting a gender-sensitive approach in their evidence gathering as it was essential to bring down cases of violence against the vulnerable segments.

The high court dismissed the appeal of a man who was charged with murdering his wife in the Mominabad area. According to the prosecution, Habibullah had killed his wife Aqeela on September 14, 2011 and escaped from the scene and later he was arrested seven years after the incident.

A counsel for the appellant submitted that there was no eyewitness in the case and the crime weapon which was a blood-stained hammer and a blood-stained sheet seized by the police were not produced in court. He submitted that the daughter of the couple had deposed that she only saw the body of her mother and did not know who had killed her.

An additional prosecutor general submitted that the conduct of the appellant and actions after the death of his wife were in themselves sufficient to establish that it was indeed he himself who had killed his wife.

The high court observed that it was only the couple and their little children who were at home on the day of the incident and the children had witnessed the parents fighting at night and saw their mother dead in the morning.

The SHC observed that the appellant ran away immediately after the murder of his wife leaving all his four small children behind in themiddle of night and the trauma he had left the little children to deal with all alone was shameful and despicable.

The high court observed that the appellant did not justify his absconding for a period of seven years and he had already admitted that he knew of the instance and that the reason he did not attend the funeral of his wife was because he was afraid that the police would arrest him.

The bench observed that although there was no eyewitness and the crime weapon was not produced in the trial court but when the body of the appellant’s wife was found in their bedroom, in the circumstances in which it was, the onus of proof had shifted on the appellant to give a reasonable defence.

The SHC observed that the appellant’s defence was unbelievable and even absurd. The high court observed that there was no reason to interfere with the life imprisonment handed down by the trial court and dismissed the appeal.