LIKE it or despise it, one thing has been consistent about the Punjab government. It continues with its policy of carrying out extra-judicial killings instead of following a proper procedure of getting the police to frame charges against the accused and refer the matter to the court for trial. The practice of staging fake encounters shows no sign of abating. Six alleged robbers, said to be members of an inter-district gang, were gunned down in a shootout with the police on the outskirts of Lahore in the wee hours of Sunday. That no police official or citizen was injured in a 30-minute crossfire comes as no surprise. The official handout contained the same old cock-and-bull story. A police inspector patrolling the area with a sub-inspector and a few constables, on being informed by the Rescue 15 Centre that some robbers had set up a picket on Defence Road and were looting motorists and passersby, reached the spot. And as the robbers shot at the police, it fired back and killed six of them. Three others fled. A report in this Paper however quoted sources as saying that the alleged dacoits had been arrested a few days ago from different parts of the province and the police decided to kill them in an encounter, claiming that they were hardened criminals involved in countless incidents of dacoity and murder. The apologists often put forth the argument that the elements involved in committing robberies and killing innocent citizens deserve no sympathy, but they should not forget that the law does not grant the police the right to kill anyone as and when it desires. It is for a court of law to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to convict the accused. The policy of the police killing people in 'shootouts' cannot be accepted by a civilized society. It bears repeating that the police officers blindly endorsing this policy are doing no service to the ruling political leadership. Punjab CM Mian Shahbaz Sharif will have to put his foot down to bring police encounters to an end if he is willing to establish the rule of law.