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Saturday May 18, 2024

Military courts' trial: SC asks judges committee to review bench after objection

Petitioners raise objections on top court's six-member bench hearing military court's case

By Abdul Qayyum Siddiqui
April 24, 2024
A man walks past the Supreme Court of Pakistan building in Islamabad, Pakistan May 13, 2023. — AFP
A man walks past the Supreme Court of Pakistan building in Islamabad, Pakistan May 13, 2023. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday referred the matter regarding the constitution of bench hearing the military courts case to the three-member Practice and Procedure Committee. 

The committee includes the chief justice and the two senior-most judges of the country's top court. 

A six-member larger bench, headed by Justice Aminuddin and comprising Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Justice Hassan Azhar Rizvi, Justice Shahid Waheed, Justice Musarrat Hilali and Justice Irfan Saadat Khan, conducted the hearing on the civilians' trials in military courts.

During the hearing, petitioner and former chief justice Jawad S Khawaja's lawyer Khawaja Ahmad Hasan raised an objection on the bench, insisting that a larger bench be constituted in light of Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Yahya Afridi's note.

The lawyer said that a larger bench comprising at least nine judges should be formed to hear this case, adding that the real question is whether civilians can be tried in military courts or not.

On January 29, Justice Masood rescued himself from hearing intra-court appeals against civilians’ trial in military court, leading to the dissolution of a six-member larger bench.

Following the lawyer's objection to the bench, the apex court referred the matter to the Practice and Procedure Committee.

Today's hearing

At the outset of the hearing today, Attorney General for Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan told the court that 20 people who have completed their sentences were released before Eid-ul-Fitr.

Justice Rizvi inquired whether the verdict of the people who were released part of the court's record.

Justice Hilali ordered to bring the military court's verdict on the court record.

"The military court's verdict will tell what procedure was adopted in the trial," said Justice Waheed.

Later, Justice Mazhar said that they want to see whether the court had allowed the people permission to appoint a lawyer of their choice.

One of the petitioners and senior lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, said that the court did not issue certificates to those who were in custody for a year. To which, the SC said that there is no such certificate.

Lawyer Hasan said that Justice Yahya had opined that a six-member bench cannot decide this case.

To this, Justice Mazhar said that Justice Yahya opinion cannot be called a judicial order.

Hasan then questioned how can civilians be tried in military courts, saying that the PBF Ali case should be re-examined.

At this point, lawyer Salman Akram Raja said that this case should be heard by at least eight member bench.

Justice Waheed asked what would happen if the judges panel decide the same bench will hear the appeals. At this, Raja said that they will accept the bench.

Journalist Hafeezullah Niazi became emotional during the hearing, saying that his son, Hassan Niazi is missing and he is unable to meet him.

At this, the top court instructed the AGP to inform SC after finding details about Hassan Niazi.