Legalising shades of grey | Andleeb Abbas

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Andleeb Abbas Article

As they say laws are like cobwebs in which when a large insect falls it breaks the web and passes right through and when a small insect falls the more it tries to escape the more it becomes entangled

The sight of Ayyan Ali in her black high boots sitting in a luxury plane ready to fly off and the sight of Gullu Butt striding out of jail in his white patent shoes depict the many shades of grey that exist between this black and white free birds/jail birds combo. Were they escaping from jail? No. Were they evading justice? No. Were they breaking the law? No. Are they innocent? No. Have they committed a crime? Yes. Should they be punished? Yes. But as they say, law is blind and can only see as defined in legal clauses; And the legal clauses are many times of such different shades of grey that they cloud evidence, blur judgment, and derail verdict; and yet laws are supposed to create frameworks of clarity of actions to regulate deviations of human conduct. Much has been written and focused on reforms in the energy and economic sector but little is known on the judicial reforms especially criminal justice reforms that are themselves victims of criminal neglect.

The maze of laws confounds the non-legal mind. Consider the original crime and sentence of Gullu Butt and the final punishment he received. Gullu Butt was accused of rowdyism, obstructing public servants in discharge of official duties, and smashing private vehicles with a club outside Minhajul Quran Secretariat in Model Town on June 17, 2014 and was originally sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment. A division bench of the Lahore High Court earlier in Feb quashed Butt’s sentence, upholding his conviction under provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). The maximum punishment the court had awarded to Butt was five-year jail term under Section 7 of Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997.He was given three months under Section 186 of the PPC, two years under Section 353 of the PPC, two years under Section 427 of the PPC and two years under Section 506 of the PPC. But Lahore High Court decided that he had completed his 2 years of imprisonment and that was enough. From 11 to 5 to 2 years. A mystery titled “there are laws and then there are laws”.

Firstly, the charges levied on Gullu Butt by the government itself were spurious. Rowdyism and vandalism were not even the beginning. Even these charges were denied by Gullu Butt as a propaganda against him. Neither the government nor Gullu Butt had the grace to bother about the live coverage by 60 channels of him leading the armed police charge on public, bashing cars, robbing shops and motivating the police to open fire on innocent people that caused the death of 14 and injured 100 people. The public uproar on this live and up-close display of violence forced the government to take some token action. Gullu Butt’s appearance and behavior became the subject of ridicule and Model Town controversy raged for a year. Justice Baqar Najfi’s report was squashed and just to pacify this uproar Gullu Butt was handed over to the police and to the courts. The return of Gullu Butt with his Rana Sanaullah moustache and his gelled hair are a complete mockery of the governance and justice system of this country.

If PMLN government’s gullism for its loyalist worked so did Ayyan Ali’s cronyism to PPP big wigs. This fashion model was caught redhanded on the airport with half a million dollars of cash which we all know she was dutifully carrying for the big boss. The case continued for 2 years and was finally dismissed due to lack of evidence and she was allowed to continue her normal” flights” abroad. Ayyan Ali’s case was not a simple overloaded purse case it was a case of both money laundering and murder. The custom officer who “dared” to stop her and arrested her was mysteriously killed and his poor wife had charged Ayyan Ali with this murder. The 50 legal shades of grey clouded everything. A case that was supposed to be handled by FIA was handled by custom authorities and was lingered to an extent that it became too nebulous to be taken seriously. The only war to be fought was Ayyan Ali’s name on the ECL which Chaudhry Nisar was reluctant to remove but a few direct meetings with the higher ups helped to sort out this “injustice” between the two parties.

The courts rely on witnesses and evidence and the evidence relies on competence and integrity of prosecutors. The legal fraternity believes that improving the conviction rate will require prosecutors to have operational control over investigators, and that prosecuting officers must submit cases where sufficient evidence is present. To add, appointments in the police and prosecution services made on a political basis can be attributed as a reason for low conviction rates countrywide. Witness protection is so weak that most witnesses refuse to testify as they are afraid of their own lives especially in anti-terrorist courts. Take the example of Ayyan Ali’s case where the poor custom officer was murdered before he could testify. Unless witness protection does not assume foolproof proportions who will risk their lives in front of power brokers who have molded and bent all investigating agencies into Gulluism or Lyarism.

Having said that it is also true that the capacity of the courts to deal with cases is abysmal. Take the pending load at Sindh and Peshawar High Court. Sindh’s 27 judicial district courts have 119,677 pending civil, family and criminal cases from Jan 1 to Nov 30 2016 according to the Sindh High Court’s monitoring inspection team. According to the PHC website, by the end of October 2016, around 33,302 cases were pending before the high court whereas 187,840 cases were pending before the subordinate courts or district judiciary. This is not just a matter of justice delayed but justice not even begun.

As they say laws are like cobwebs in which when a large insect falls it breaks the web and passes right through and when a small insect falls the more it tries to escape the more it becomes entangled. That is the case with justice in Pakistan. For the powerless ordinary the jungle of laws make them become Alice in Wonderland running in circles from one court to the other, while for powerful people the law becomes blind, grey, fluid and porous. That is why Panama Leaks is a test case of how law can legitimize illegitimacy. By all accounts the money stashed abroad belongs to the people of Pakistan; most lawyers, judges, analysts, experts and people of Pakistan know it, admit it, accept it but most people also agree that blue collar crime will turn grey when it comes to passing the judgement on the most powerful of the country. Which shade of grey or blue it will turn will only be determined by the eyes of the law beholders.

The writer is a columnist and analyst and can be reached at andleeb.abbas1@gmail.com