SHC orders activating provincial, district police complaint bodies

Photo: AFP/Dawn File

The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday ordered the activation of the provincial and district public safety and police complaint commissions, and meaningful consultation with the inspector general of police (IGP) in matters pertaining to police administration, appointments and postings of police officers in the province.

The order came on identical petitions seeking meaningful consultation with the IGP in dealing with operations and administration of the police force under the police law, and the activation of the provincial and district police oversight and complaint redressal mechanism.

The petitioners also impugned the deletion of the police complaints authority, and challenged political interference in the Sindh police department.

Issuing a detailed judgment on the petitions, an SHC division bench comprising Chief Justice Ahmed Ali M Sheikh and Justice Yousuf Ali Sayeed ordered that any exercise of powers by the government about the constitution of the police force and the appointment of experts would require meaningful consultation with the IGP.

The bench said that the provincial police chief would be invited to attend the relevant meeting with proper and sufficient notice or make a representation if the IGP so desires.

The court declared that the role of any experts appointed by the government under Section 14 of the Police Order is purely advisory, and it would be the prerogative of the IGP to seek and draw on such expertise at his discretion, but on no account can any expert dictate to the police chief on any matter falling within his competence.

The bench also protected the tenure of the IGP, and declared that any move to remove a police chief from the post prior to the conclusion of the term/tenure would be subject to the rule laid down by the Supreme Court in the Anita Turab case.

The court also ordered that the posting of the city and district police officers and the constitution of police regions and divisions would be done in consultation with the provincial government instead of the approval of the government.

The bench ordered that the provincial and district public safety and police complaint commissions be activated and their meetings be convened at least once every calendar month until such a time as proper rules are framed in this regard.

The court ordered that the federal and provincial governments give full, immediate and meaningful effect to the orders made and directions given in the judgment, and restrained the government from acting in any manner that is either inconsistent with or which contradicts any such orders or directions.

The bench said that they are conscious of the unfortunate reality and uncomfortable truth that there may be functionaries of the police, and indeed other services, who may actively seek political alliances and ends or place themselves at the disposal of political forces so as to curry favour for personal benefit.

The court said that such a reality does not mean that a proper enabling environment is not ensured for those officers who wish to protect and serve with dignity and honest intent in accordance with the best traditions of policing while asserting their independence.

The bench said that the former Police Act represented a piece of colonial legislation enacted to perpetuate an oppressive foreign rule, where the police force was often an agency of oppression and subjugation, with the relationship between the police and the public being one of suspicion.

The court said that in today’s paradigm, however, with independence and self-governance under a constitutional framework, the aspirations and expectations of the people have grown, and it is sufficiently clear that there exists a duty of the state to protect and safeguard fundamental rights.

The bench said that it is manifest that a people-friendly and service-oriented police force is the requirement of the day, with the need for the system to inspire public confidence by serving all communities fairly, so as to usher in compliance with the rule of law.

The petitioners’ counsel Faisal Siddiqui argued that the enforcement of fundamental rights is not possible without an effective and efficient police force, which can only come into being if the necessary degree of autonomy and independence is vested in and flows from the head of the institution without external influence or control.

He said that no law that compromises the power of the IGP to have control over police affairs, especially insofar as postings and transfers are concerned, and any law that allows outside interference whether by the provincial government or any other body or authority, would be unconstitutional because it would be in violation of the SC judgment.

The Sindh advocate general questioned the locus standi of the petitioners and the maintainability of the petitions, arguing that the provincial assembly is competent to pass the amendment act without limitation, and that the revived Police Order in its amended form is not ultra vires the constitution.

He said that there is a presumption as to the correctness and constitutionality of the piece of legislation that cannot be challenged or struck down merely on the grounds of it being in violation of a judgment of a court, arguing that the courts ought not to interfere in the executive domain of policymaking.

Published at The News on 28th July 2023

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