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Courts and Criminal Procedure

Pakistan has an extensive penal code of some 511 articles, based on the Indian Penal Code of 1860, extensively amended during both the preindependence and the postindependence eras, and an equally extensive Code of Criminal Procedure. Numerous other laws relating to criminal behavior have also been enacted. Much of Pakistan's code deals with crimes against persons and properties--including the crime of dacoity (robbery by armed gangs) and the misappropriation of property.

Pakistani courts can, and do impose the death sentence, as well as imprisonment, forfeiture of property, and fines. Imprisonment is either "rigorous"--the equivalent of hard labor for up to fourteen years--or "simple"--confinement without hard labor. Another form is "banishment," which involves serving in a maximum security prison for periods of seven years to life. In February 1979, Zia ul-Haq issued new laws that punished rape, adultery, and the "carnal knowledge of a virgin" by stoning; first time theft by amputation of the right hand; and consumption of alcohol by eighty lashes. Stoning and amputation, it should be noted, had not been carried out as of early 1994--at least not outside of the tribal area where tribal custom, rather than the Pakistani penal code, is the law of the land.

Article 45 of the constitution bestows on the president the right to grant a pardon or to remit, suspend, or commute any sentence passed by any court. There are also legal provisions for parole.

In principle, articles 9 through 13 of the constitution and provisions of the codes guarantee most of the same protections that are found in British and United States law. These rights include, for example, the right to bail and to counsel, the right of habeas corpus, the right of cross-examination, the right of representation, the right of being informed of charges, the right of appeal, and the right of the prevention of double jeopardy.

The code contains copious provisions for punishment of crimes against the state or against public tranquillity. These crimes extend to conspiracy against the government, incitement of hatred, contempt or disaffection toward a lawfully constituted authority, unlawful assembly, and public disturbances. Punishments range from terms of imprisonment to life in prison or death.

In most instances, a person apprehended appears before a magistrate or assistant commissioner, who decides on bail; the magistrate may also try less serious cases. Serious cases are tried before the sessions courts, which can award punishments up to death. The provincial high court hears appeals and automatically reviews any conviction involving the death penalty. The highest level of appeal for criminal cases is the federal Supreme Court. ))

Under the Suppression of Terrorist Activities (Special Courts) Act of 1975, the government established special courts to try cases involving crimes of a "terrorist" nature (for example, murder and sabotage). In 1987 another ordinance was passed establishing Speedy Trial Courts, which were empowered to hand down a death penalty after a three-day trial in which almost no adjournments were permitted. The jurisdictional authority of both kinds of courts was amended in 1988, but they have continued to operate. In 1991 the Speedy Trial Courts were given new jurisdictional authority to try particularly heinous crimes under the constitution's Twelfth Amendment. These courts handle cases that attract widespread public attention, especially those dealing with murder and drug offenses and in which the government believes that justice must be meted out rapidly. Only one appeal is permitted. In 1990 special "accountability" courts were set up to try individuals from Benazir's first administration who were charged with corruption. In late 1993, Benazir announced that her government would stop referring new cases to the special courts and would allow the constitutional authority for these courts to lapse in 1994.

The court system and the provisions of criminal law do not extend into the tribal areas along the Afghan border. These areas are administrated by political agents who work with tribal leaders to maintain law and order according to tribal standards.

Data as of April 1994

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Pakistan Table of Contents