FAIR TRIAL BILL-2012: A WELCOME ACT
By Zia Siddiqui
While nearing the completion of its legal term of five years, the National Assembly of Pakistan has created history by unanimously passing the much needed “Fair Trial Bill-2012” on 21 December, 2012. The Bill which now needs to be passed by the Senate and then signed by the President Asif Ali Zardari to become the law of the land is a landmark achievement of the legislature. Fair Trial Bill-2012 or the “FTB-12” as I would like it to be referred so that it becomes known to everybody quickly, would provide country’s top intelligence agencies to intercept private communications, primarily to track terrorists.
In fact, Pakistan’s Law Enforcing Agencies (LEAs) led by intelligence agencies had long been demanding suitable legislation to give them teeth for successful prosecution of the held miscreants and terrorists. Available data suggests that more than fifty percent of the accused were released by the Anti Terrorism Courts of Rawalpindi alone for the lack of evidence. Also, more than 200 suspected terrorists including suspects involved in some of the very serious crimes and acts of terror were acquitted by the courts for the want of credible evidence.
One thing must be accepted upfront that our LEAs were unable to keep pace with the phenomenal developments in the fields of informatics, intelligence gathering and sharing techniques, and messages interception and interpretation know how. Whenever Interior Minister Rahman Malik imposed bans and restrictions on the use of mobile phones on sensitive occasions, he was targeted for being intrusive and outdated. Rightly so, but in his professional judgment, it was the right thing to do to disrupt the communication links between the terrorists on extremely important religious occasions, like Eid or Yaum-e-Ashur etc.
Now, with FTB-12 just weeks away from becoming an Act, will permit the security agencies to collect evidence using modern gadgets and techniques like wire-tapping, intercepting text messages and emails, all of which would be accepted in courts of law in cases under relevant laws falling under the domain of breaching the security. FTB-12 would give the requisite authority to Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, except Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which was not included in the final list due to strong objections by the members of the PML(N), to tape and intercept electronic materials and data as evidence. FTB-12 would also ensure that authority is not misused by the intelligence agencies and users’ powers are properly regulated. The Bill when becomes Act would bring all the LEAs and Intelligence Agencies under a uniformed legal system for collection of evidence admissible in the court of law even if collected prior to the lodgement of the FIR. Act would provide the necessary legal authority to design and develop requisite structures and networks to access the emails, conduct surveillance of individuals or groups who are suspected of being involved in acts of terror and organised crimes. Such an authority for our LEAs had become extremely critical to harness the reign of terror caused by terrorists’ outfits across the length and breadth of our beloved country. While nation was still in shock over the unfortunate killings of the polio-vaccine health workers in Karachi and Peshawar, the assassination of KP’s senior minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour has further pushed the people of Pakistan into utter disbelief and despair. With this state of affairs in the country, FTB-12 can be seen as a beacon of hope and resolve that our LEAs teeth would now be sharpened and prosecution would have something to prove in the courts of law against those arrested for heinous crimes and acts of terrorism. This would certainly send a message to the international community about our commitment to deal with extremism and terrorism with iron hand.
While commending the government and the opposition for unanimously passing FTB-12, one would expect the same magnanimity and urgency on part of the Senate to expedite the process of making FTB-12 into an Act without much delay or so to say that as early as practicable.