Protection of Women Against Violence – New bill passed by the Punjab Assembly

On 25 February 2016, the Provincial Assembly of Punjab passed the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Bill, 2015 (the “Protection Bill”).

Q. What is it?

The Protection Bill aims to make a “special provision for the protection of women”, “to protect women against violence including domestic violence, to establish a protection system for effective service delivery to women victims and to create an enabling environment to encourage and facilitate women freely to play their desired role in the society, and to provide for ancillary matters”.

Q. What is domestic violence?

Section 2 (h) defines “domestic violence” as:

the violence committed by the defendant with whom the aggrieved is living or has lived in a house when they are related to each other by consanguinity, marriage or adoption;

Section 2 (r) defines “violence” as:

any offence committed against a woman including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, emotional, psychological and verbal abuse, economic abuse, stalking or a cybercrime;

Q. What are the other key definitions of the Protection Bill?

The following definitions, in Section 2, are key:

(a) “aggrieved person” means a woman who has been subjected to violence by a defendant;

(e) “dependent child” means a child who is below the age of twelve years of age and includes any adopted, step or foster child;

(j) “house” includes a place where the aggrieved person lives in a domestic relationship irrespective of right to ownership or possession of the aggrieved person, defendant or joint family;

Q. What are the plans for implementation?

For implementation, Section 3 provides that the Government shall, amongst others:

(a) institute (establish) a universal toll free dial-in-number for the aggrieved persons;

(b) establish Protection Centres and shelter homes under a phased programme;

(c) appoint necessary staff at a Protection Centre for mediation and reconciliation between the parties, rescue, medical examination, medical and psychological treatment and legal help of the aggrieved persons and proper investigation of offences committed against aggrieved persons;

(d) raise awareness about the issues involving women and the requirements of protection and relief of the aggrieved persons.

Q. What steps should be taken to seek protection and what happens then?

1. The aggrieved person, or any other person authorized by the aggrieved, or a Women Protection Officer, appointed under Section 14 of the Protection Bill, may submit a complaint for obtaining a protection, residence or monetary order for the aggrieved.

2. The relevant court shall be (1) where the aggrieved resides or carries on business; (2) where the defendant resides and carries on business; (3) where the aggrieved and the defendant last resided together.

3. The court shall then start proceedings not more than seven (7) days of the date of receipt of the complaint by the court.

4. The defendant shall be notified to show cause (appear in court) within seven (7) days. If a defendant fails to respond within the specific time, the court shall, subject to another notice to the defendant, assume that the defendant has no plausible defense and proceed to pass such order as the court deems fit.

Q. How will the court protect the victim.

1. Protective Order: If the court is satisfied that any violence has been committed, or is likely to be committed, the court may pass a protection order in favour of the aggrieved person and direct the defendant to, inter alia, not communicate with the victim, stay away from the victim, stay at a particular distance from the victim, wear an ankle or wrist GPS tracker to track the movement of the defendant at all hours, surrender any weapons, refrain from entering the place of employment of the victim, refrain from causing or aiding or abetting any act of violence; and/or refrain from committing such acts as may be specified in the protection order.

2. Residence Order: In the event of domestic violence, the court may pass a residence order directing that, inter alia, the victim shall not be evicted from the house, the victim has the right to stay in the house, the defendant shall not sell or transfer the house to any person other than the victim, the victim may be relocated to a shelter home (established under Section 13 of the Protection Bill), and/or the victim be relocated to some alternative accommodation.

3. Monetary Order: The court may also pass a monetary order ordering the defendant to pay monetary relief to meet the expenses incurred and losses suffered by the defendant which may include, inter alia, loss of earning, medical expense, damages for destruction of property, and/or maintenance of the victim and her dependent children.

Q. Where does the aggrieved person go during proceedings?

Under Section 5 of the Protection Bill, the victim shall not be evicted from the house without her consent.

Q. What are some of the shortfalls of the Protection Bill?

Some shortfalls are:

  1. The offender, it appears, can only be a person who is known to the victim by consanguinity, marriage, or adoption and does not cover such relations that the victim may have to face on a day to day but do not fall within this category, such as relatives-in-law.
  2. The legislation only provides for domestic violence against women; whereas, men may also be victims of domestic violence.
  3. The stringent timelines in the Protection Bill places a heavy burden on the courts without any mechanism of assistance to the courts.
  4. The requirement to consistently monitor protection officers to ensure that such officers do not add to the distress and instead handle issues with care, empathy, and efficiency.
  5. Regular training to the toll-free number representatives to ensure that they are able to provide advice in a quick and efficient manner, respect anonymity, and are available round the clock.
  6. The legislation does not cover dowry and the culpability of giving or receiving the same. The analogous legislation in India, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, criminalized the offence of giving and receiving dowry.
  7. The need for mechanisms to ensure that this legislation is not misused, for example, verbal abuse is a wide term to report violence. Such mechanisms, though, should not be at the cost of restricting, reserving or downplaying genuine cases of violence against women and should not give too much discretion to the reporting officers.
  8. Custody of children should have been included in the legislation to ensure that the victim is not deprived of full right to her children.
  9. The legislation appears to have the limited scope of civil instead of (the more preferable) criminal law. Criminal sanctions (arrest and imprisonment) require a further offense by the accused respondent (such as violating a protection order issued under this law). This may, however, be a deliberate factor of the legislators to ensure quick and flexible relief for the victim.

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Myra Khan is a Barrister-at-Law from the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn and (ex) Vice Chairperson Women Rights Committee of the Lahore High Court Bar Association. She is currently practicing law in Lahore, Pakistan.

Any queries may be directed to lawyereadia@gmail.com

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Whistleblower Protection in Pakistan

A whistleblower is a person who raises concern or awareness about a wrongdoing in their workplace, either state or private. 

In the recent years, with the testimonies of Edward Snowden (an American computer professional, former CIA and US Government employee who copied classified information from the United States National Security Agency (the “NSA”) in 2013 without prior authorization. This information revealed numerous global surveillance progams and brought the issue of privacy, security and surveillance to global discussion), Julian Assange (the founder of Wikileaks that publishes secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources), and Bradley Manning (a US army officer who disclosed information to Wikileaks), whistleblowing has become a much discussed topic receiving equal amounts of support and opposition.

Whistleblowing, however, has been practiced for centuries. From the Ramayana, where Vibhishan, younger brother of the King of Lanka, Ravana, informs Ram about the whereabouts of Sita, the consort of Ram, to the Watergate scandal that toppled the presidency of Richard Nixon on the information provided by a secret informant known as Deep Throat (revealed in 2005 as Mark Felt). Whistleblowing has grave consequences for the accused and the accuser. The whistleblower, though seemingly working for the greater good, is oft seen as dangerous and misguided (e.g. why did he have to make the information public, why didn’t he use the correct mechanisms) and forced to live either in hiding, never revealing his identity, or in exile.

In Pakistan, there is no specific legislation on whistleblower protection on a Federal level. Within the provinces, only Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, vide the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act, 2013 (the “KPK 2013 Act”), provisions for the protection of whistleblowers (Section 30). Section 30 of the KPK 2013 Act provides for protection of whistleblowers as follows:

30. Whistleblowers.—(1) No one may be subject to any legal, administrative or employment related sanction, regardless of any breach of a legal or employment obligation, for releasing information on wrongdoing, or which would disclose a serious threat to health, safety or the environment, as long as they acted in good faith and in the reasonable belief that the information was substantially true and disclosed evidence of wrongdoing or a serious threat to health, safety or the environment.

(2) For purposes of sub-section (1), wrongdoing includes the commission of a criminal offence, failure to comply with a legal obligation, a miscarriage of justice, corruption or dishonesty, or serious maladministration regarding a public body.

The other provinces also have similar acts: Punjab has the Right to Information Act, 2013; Balochistan has enacted the Freedom of Information Act, 2005; and Sindh has enacted the Sindh Freedom of Information Act, 2006 (collectively referred to as the “Acts”). However, there is no provision in the Acts which is analogous to Section 30 of the KPK 2013 Act or provides for protection of whistleblowers.

The fate of whistleblowers is, therefore, left to the jurors deciding each case upon its facts. The following factors act as a deterrent against whistleblowing:

  1. Red-tapism; no outcome of the complaint made using the correct procedures, if any, available.
  2. Defences, such as national security, interest of the state, and confidentiality obligations, argued, usually successfully, by the accused.
  3. No procedure for the protection of the identity of the whistleblower.

The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, with the insertion of Article 19A, allowed citizens the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance. The Eighteenth Amendment was an attempt to bring information “in all matters of public importance” to the public sphere. Public bodies, officials, institutions were now required to record, store and be accountable for the information used and processed by them. Unfortunately, the Eighteenth Amendment was qualified with the proviso “subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law” that resulted in curtailing the rights of citizens. The proviso provided an opening for the holders of information to restrict access. The only remedy available to citizens seeking information under Article 19A is challenging any refusal in the courts which include the usual issues with court proceedings, i.e. years of litigation, costs, waste of time, etc.

The text of Article 19A is as follows:

19A. Right to information.−Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.

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Myra Khan is a Barrister-at-Law from the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn and Vice Chairperson Women Rights Committee of the Lahore High Court Bar Association. She is currently practicing law in Lahore, Pakistan.