The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday expressed concern over the Punjab government’s failure to establish the special sexual offences investigation units (SSOIUs) in several districts of the province as mandated under the Anti-Rape Act (Investigation and Trial) 2021.
During the hearing of a petition by an alleged gang-rape victim woman, Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh found out about the unavailability of the SSOIUs in most of the districts of Punjab even two years after the enactment of the anti-rape law.
“If that is the situation, it is directed to constitute the requisite SSOIUs immediately and to arrange necessary training for the police officers assigned to them as required by law,” the judge directed in his verdict.
Section 9 of the Anti-Rape Act 2021 provides a special procedure for investigating the scheduled offences and envisages the constitution of the special units in every district by the provincial governments and in Islamabad by the federal government.
Justice Sheikh observed that the Anti-Rape Act aims at effectively dealing with the rape and sexual abuse crimes committed against women and children. He termed the police investigation a key component of the criminal justice system as it consisted of identifying, collecting, conserving and presenting evidence before a court of law. He said the majority of criminal cases failed in courts due to defective investigations.
The judge maintained that rape and other sexual violence crimes required a thorough investigation, like any other criminal case. If a victim is not sent for medical examination on time, or if the evidence submitted by the medical officer is not processed and transmitted to the appropriate labs by the police, the entire case may become weak and thus benefit the perpetrator, he noted.
He said Section 9 of the Anti-Rape Act introduced a concept of trained special units to investigate sexual offences more effectively because their expertise could reduce delays during the investigation and considerably raise the likelihood of conviction in sexual violence cases, which currently had an abysmally low rate.
Justice Sheikh noted that every SSOIU was required to have one female police officer as a member to help the victim feel comparatively comfortable during the investigation. He said the importance of a female police officer increased manifold in the cases involving children.
The petitioner/woman had lodged an FIR in 2022 under Section 375-A of the PPC (gang rape offence) with the Saddar Daska Police Station, district Sialkot, against four people accusing them of sexually assaulting her. During the investigation, police found that it was not a gang rape and substituted Section 375-A PPC with Section 371-B PPC (offence of sex between persons not united by marriage).
The woman disagreed with this finding and pleaded before the court that it had no legal value because the entire proceedings were conducted in contravention of Section 9 of the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Act, 2021. She asked the court to quash the police investigation and issue a direction to the respondents to reinvestigate the case in accordance with Section 9 of the Anti-Rape Act.
A report of the Sialkot district police officer (DPO) filed before the court disclosed that the SSOIUs and gender crime cells comprising female police officials trained regarding sexual offences and gender crimes had been established in the district under the supervision of a sub-divisional police officer. It said the SP Investigation was the overall in-charge of the wing and the present case was being investigated by an SSOIU.
The judge disposed of the petition as the DPO assured the court that the investigation into the petitioner’s case was compliant with Section 9 of the anti-rape law.