- What are JIT reports really worth?
The JIT is the talk of the town. Uzair Baloch was a symbol of terror in Lyari, Karachi. He faces serious allegations of committing heinous crimes, including murders. With a view to shattering his terror network and to uprooting such networks before they take root, a JIT was constituted. It comprised seven representatives of the federal government, provincial government, police, and intelligence agencies. Its report could not see the light of the day, however.
Political parties levelled a catena of accusations. TV anchors zoomed in on this issue. Nevertheless, during the budget session, federal minister Ali Zaidi attacked the PPP fiercely. PPP veteran former federal minister, Naveed Qamar flew into a rage, taking off his coat angrily as if throwing a gauntlet to Zaidi.
Zaidi harped on the issue that according to the JIT report, Uzair Baloch was involved in terrorist activities under PPP auspices. Also, he maintained that Uzair extorted money from people through the Layari gang and illegally dispossessed them of their properties. Zaidi felt he had got the real JIT report, while the Sindh Government quoted an incomplete report, distorted to absolve ex-President Asif Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur. However, Zaidi couldn’t tell who had given him the alleged report that came in a “Khaki” envelope. Contrarily, he invited the Supreme Court to clean the dirt he had dug up, to determine which report held good.
A lot of questions crop up. The JIT gained popularity when it was formed by the SC under Article 184(3) to investigate the Panamagate scandal against then M Nawaz Sharif. Since then, a JIT has been considered the be-all and end-all of investigations into every high-profile case. The so-called findings returned by it have been treated as though set in stone.
Before seeking answers to such crucial questions as whether the inception of JIT militates against Constitution and law? Or under what law it is brought into being? Besides, whether it can decide guilt or innocence?, its origin and historical background merit discussion.
A JIT is an anomaly in Pakistan’s jurisprudence. Neither is the report the last word nor sacrosanct. The government of the day should do its own work, but not settle scores under the garb of JITs. Also, it is high time that media trials were stopped
Seemingly, the concept of a JIT or Joint Investigation Team was borrowed from laws in force in European Union countries where different EU countries simultaneously probe into crimes committed within territories of two or more countries. In such cases, the investigative agencies of these countries share their investigation with one another. Hence the inception of JITs.
The criminal jurisprudence of Pakistan didn’t recognize a JIT until an amendment in 2013 was made to the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, by adding sections 11-EEE and 11-EEEE. Pursuant to this amendment, JIT is an abbreviation of Joint Interrogation Team. A careful perusal of these provisions makes clear that the federal government orders to form a JIT for a specified time, not least when the matter is complex in nature and requires deeper probe beyond the capabilities of an SP.
This amendment aims at carrying out an investigation, collection of evidence, and the interrogation of a person accused of terrorism, under preventive detention for up to 3 months. A JIT consists of an SP and officers of different civil agencies. If the Army takes a person into custody, JIT shall include the Army officers or officers of Army agencies.
The Anti-Terrorism Act, as is evident from its very title, was passed to nip terrorism-related crimes in the bud. That apart, it incorporates a detailed definition of terrorism. Except for this law, the enacted laws in Pakistan are completely silent on JITs.
Anyone having a smattering of law does know that a law cannot be invoked unless the underlying reasons for making it are not taken into account. It is trite law that neither the letter of the law can be altered nor a word can be added or deleted. If the establishment of JIT is to be put to the litmus test of the above amendment, any JIT that falls outside its purview would be absolutely illegal and unconstitutional. Unconstitutional because Article 4 mandates not only protection of the law, but also guarantees individuals for the time being in Pakistan and its citizens to be treated in accordance with law. At the heart of this article lies the concept of rule of law.
Has this immensely significant article been reduced to icing on the cake? When the Supreme Court directed to constitute a JIT against Nawaz Sharif, it was blithely disregarded that this step was antithetical to the law of the land and had the potential to become a subterfuge to cover up illegal acts in times to come. This decision shook the foundations of law and constitution to the core and played havoc with well-settled jurisprudence. However, to tackle this, a novel argument was built that the Supreme Court can give any direction to any department of government under Article 187. This article give carte blanche to the Sureme Court to constitute new bodies, not envisaged by the law. If the apex court itself called into question the legality of the Asset Recovery Unit (ARU), every law-abiding person is justified in asking whether the SC is clothed with the authority and power to bring into existence any temporary or permanent institution, not contemplated by the Constitution and law? Whether Article 184(3) is not subservient to the law? Whether it is above the Constitution? Whether judges don’t take oath to abide by the Constitution and law? Whether Article 5 does not cast an inviolable obligation on every citizen to stand by the Constitution? If the formation of a JIT is violative of law and constitution, what would be the ultimate fate of the evidence collected by it? Even otherwise, there are four longstanding principles of law. Firstly, when the foundation is void, the superstructure built on it would come crumbling down too. Secondly, when a thing is not allowed to be done directly, it cannot be done indirectly. Thirdly, an investigator cannot take on the mantle of a judge. Fourthly, no accused can be declared innocent or guilty either by police challan submitted under Section 173 of the Criminal Procedure Code, or by a JIT report. This can only be determined by a court of law, and that, too, after the recording of evidence.
A JIT is an anomaly in Pakistan’s jurisprudence. Neither is the report the last word nor sacrosanct. The government of the day should do its own work, but not settle scores under the garb of JITs. Also, it is high time that media trials were stopped.