The Pakistan President on Thursday promulgated an ordinance to amend the Anti Terrorism Act of 1997 and make it more effective.

Now electronic evidence is admissible and trial through video link is permitted, according to official sources. The government also plans a witness protection programme and provisions for cases of those arrested on charges of terrorism to be transferred to any part of the country.

The Anti Terrorism (amendment) Ordinance allows for access to mobile phones in jails to be blocked. Joint investigation teams can be formed to probe a case if the investigation officer fails to make progress.

To curb delays in trial, the ordinance says that offences under this Act shall be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of Inspector or, where the government deems it necessary, by a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to be constituted by the government comprising an investigating officer of police not below the rank of Inspector, and officers from intelligence agencies and other law enforcement agencies.

The investigating officer or the JIT, as the case may be, shall complete the investigation in respect of cases to be tried by the court within thirty working days. If that does not happen, the investigating officer or the JIT shall, within three days, forward an interim report to the court with the progress of investigation made until then.

The court shall start the trial on the basis of this interim report, unless, for reasons which have to be recorded, it decides that the trial cannot be held.

The court should also proceed with the trial on a day to day basis and decide the case within seven days, failing which the matter shall be brought to the notice of the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned for appropriate directions.

The government hopes to ensure speedy trials in terror crimes keeping in mind the inordinate delays at present which result in few convictions and fewer people appearing as witnesses in cases, fearing for their lives.

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