Feisal Naqvi

No vino, no veritas

In Uncategorized on November 4, 2008 at 8:18 am

I am sick and tired of hearing over and over that our laws are fine, that it is only their implementation which is wrong. Many of our laws are not fine. All of them need to be re-examined, many of them need to be updated and some of them need to be redrafted from scratch

I don’t know how to say this politely so let me jump right in: we are a nation of liars. I am not referring to our politicians and to promises promiscuously made and abandoned. No, I am referring to us, we the people of this glorious land, for it is a cold hard judicially recognised fact that Pakistanis (and Indians, for that matter) do not tell the truth.

One of the standard maxims of law drummed into the head of every young barrister is the saying falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means “false in one thing, false in everything.” This principle of law goes all the way back to Roman times and it stands for the position that the testimony of a person who had been proven wrong about one thing is to be considered false in its entirety.

Thus, if a lawyer can show that a witness who claimed to have seen A and B gang up and beat C was false in that B was actually dead at the relevant time, the testimony of that witness cannot be used to convict A. This principle is still followed in England today. And in the United States. But not in Pakistan. And not in India.

In Pakistan and India, generations of judges have reluctantly been forced to deal with the fact that we do not tell the truth. Confronted with a lying witness, a Pakistani judge does not discard the entirety of that witness’s testimony: instead he “sifts the wheat from the chaff” and only discards those bits which he does not believe.

The reason why judges in India and Pakistan undertake this exercise is because of the fabled FIR. For those who don’t know, the term FIR stands for “First Information Report” which is filed under Section 152 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1898. Legally speaking, an FIR is not even substantive evidence; instead, it is just a report which forms the basis for further investigation.

In reality, the recording of an FIR is a step with massive significance because it effectively requires the police to arrest the persons named in it. Legally speaking, the FIR is supposed to be a record of what an eyewitness to a crime actually saw. In reality, it is a document drafted by the victim’s family in close consultation with the local police officers, designed so as to incriminate as many of the “opposing side” as possible.

Let me give you an example. Suppose that Mr Innocent Bystander of Chak No 452, District Mandi Bahauddin finds a dead bullet-riddled body lying on a dirt road near some sugarcane fields. In theory, Mr Bystander should hotfoot it over to the nearest police station and record his statement saying, “I was going home from the field when I found the dead body of Mr X lying in the road.”

In reality, Mr Bystander (or the police) will inform Mr X’s next of kin and eventually the police will record a statement by Mr X’s younger brother/cousin/nearest non-incarcerated male relative saying something like the following:

“Mr X and I were going back to our home when A, B and C stepped out of the fields into our path. A shouted out that they would take revenge for the murder of our ancient enemy, B then shot my brother in the chest with a 12-gauge shotgun, Then they all disappeared into the fields, shouting that they had at last taken revenge and warning us not to take any action.”

Now suppose you are the judge hearing the murder case and the defence proves that A was actually in jail at the time of the alleged murder. What will you do? If you start picking holes in the web of evidence so patiently created by the dead man’s relatives, you will most likely exonerate the murderer. You cannot accept the FIR at face value and yet the dead man demands justice.

So far as I know, many judges deal with this conundrum by assuming that the family of Mr X will have learnt the correct facts through the village grapevine and that the most serious accusations (e.g., the fatal shot) will be levelled against the person most likely involved. B is therefore likely to be convicted of murder and the other two will be let off.

At this point you may ask, so what? All systems of justice are flawed. Why dwell on these issues?

The answer is that laws have consequences. Laws are a reflection of the values that we, as a people, choose to enforce. I do not know whether we were liars first or whether our laws encouraged us to become liars. But what we have now is a system which completely disenfranchises the individual in that whether or not he tells the truth is judicially irrelevant: the only truth which counts judicially is that which the official believes.

Little wonder then that our people (and our politicians) believe there is nothing wrong with lying. More importantly, this system also corrupts the relevant officials because people who deal day in and day out with lying litigants not unnaturally come to the conclusion that the masses are devious, untrustworthy and incapable of governing themselves.

The bigger picture point is that I am sick and tired of hearing over and over that our laws are fine, that it is only their implementation which is wrong. Many of our laws are not fine. All of them need to be re-examined, many of them need to be updated and some of them need to be redrafted from scratch.

Einstein defined stupidity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We are not stupid. It is time we tried different things.

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  1. It seems to me that this web site doesnt load up in a Motorola Droid. Are other folks getting the same problem? I enjoy this site and dont want to have to skip it whenever Im gone from my computer.

    • Sorry, but I have no idea about these things:) I normally write in the Express Tribune so you can try loading that site instead.

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