LAHORE: In a major setback to the PTI-led Punjab government, a Lahore High Court three-judge bench, with a majority decision of 2-1, on Friday halted from working a new joint investigation team (JIT) formed to conduct a fresh probe into the 2014 Model Town killings.
Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan, who headed the full bench, dissented from the majority view of the other two members Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan and Justice Aalia Neelum. The court suspended a notification regarding formation of the new JIT and sought a reply from the Punjab government.
Khurram Rafiq and other police officials, facing trial in the Model Town case, had filed petitions challenging the legitimacy of the new JIT.
Senior lawyers Azam Nazir Tarar and Burhan Moazam Malik appeared on behalf of the petitioners and argued that the trial in the Model Town case initiated on a private complaint filed by the Idara Minhajul Quran/Pakistan Awami Tehreek is near conclusion as 86 out of 135 witnesses have testified before the trial court.
They said a judicial inquiry and a JIT have already investigated the firing incident. They pointed out that the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 did not allow formation of fresh investigations in a case after submission of challan and framing of charges in particular.
They raised serious questions over the formation of the new JIT, saying the Supreme Court of Pakistan in its decision had not ordered constitution of the new JIT but the Punjab government itself told the court that it decided to hold a fresh investigation in the case. Later, the government on January 3, 2019 formed the impugned JIT in clear violation of settled laws, said the lawyers.
During the hearing, an assistant advocate general remained present in the court but he did not come up with arguments, saying that he is yet to receive instructions from the government side.
The bench reserved the verdict on maintainability of the petitions before Jumma prayer and announced it at around 6:20pm when Advocate General of Punjab (AGP) Ahmad Awais along with other law officers was present in the courtroom to complain about being
unheard in the case. Awais claimed that the office of the advocate general has no formal information from the court about Friday’s proceedings. He said it is very unprecedented that a decision is being announced without hearing the view of the government.
The bench snubbed the principal law officer, asking him to lower his tone when ‘arguments’ of the latter turned a little loud. “I am trying to make myself heard by the bench,” retorted Awais.
‘Don’t try to pressurize the court,” Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan reminded the AGP and told him that a law officer remained present in the court during the whole proceedings. Justice Qasim Khan asked the AGP to adopt due legal course if he had any reservation on the decision.
The bench with the majority view declared the petitions maintainable, suspended the notification of the impugned JIT and issued a notice to the government. The next date of hearing will be fixed by the office.
A couple of days ago, the new JIT headed by Inspector General of National Highways and Motorways Police AD Khwaja interrogated former prime minister Nawaz Sharif at the Kot Lakhpat Jail and recorded his statement about his alleged role in the Model Town incident. Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif, former law minister Rana Sanaullah and other former ministers of the PML-N had also appeared before the JIT in recent days to record their statements.
On June 17, 2014, at least 14 people were killed and 100 others injured when the police opened fire to disperse protesting activists of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) during an anti-encroachment operation outside the residence of PAT Chief Tahirul Qadri.