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Thursday June 20, 2024

Civilians’ trial in military courts: SC refers matter to committee for re-forming bench

SC referred issue of six-member bench hearing the trial of civilians in military courts case to the Practice and Procedure Committee for reconstitution of the bench

By Mumtaz Alvi & Sohail Khan
April 25, 2024
The Supreme Court of Pakistan building in Islamabad. — APP File
The Supreme Court of Pakistan building in Islamabad. — APP File 

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday, after reservations raised against the six-member bench hearing the trial of civilians in military courts case, referred the matter to the Practice and Procedure Committee for reconstitution of the bench.

A six-member larger bench of the apex court headed by Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan heard the ICAs against its judgement declaring as unconstitutional the trial of May 9 violence accused in military courts. Other members of the bench included Justice Hassan Azhar Rizvi, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Justice Musarat Hilali, Justice Shahid Waheed and Justice Irfan Saadat Khan.

During the hearing, Ahmed Hussain, counsel for former chief justice Jawad S Khwaja, one of the petitioners, pleaded the court that a larger nine-member bench should be constituted for hearing the ICAs in light of note of Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Yahya Afridi.

Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, however, observed that the observation made by the judge was not binding on the original judgement.“This matter is also very much sensitive for which a larger nine-member bench should also be constituted,” the counsel pleaded.

Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan told the counsel that there was a committee that would decide about constitution of a larger bench. “I want that the committee under Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act 2023 should constitute a nine-member larger bench to hear the ICAs,” he contended.

He submitted that in the light of present circumstances, an appropriate order would enable the larger bench of the apex court to settle the issue of court martial of a person once for all.

Meanwhile, Salman Akram Raja, counsel for another petitioner, submitted: “At least an eight-member larger bench should hear the instant ICAs.”

Later, Raja agreed to the request made by one of the counsels seeking nine-member larger bench. Faisal Siddiqui, counsel for another petitioner, while appearing before the court through video link from Karachi Registry, also supported the plea of constituting a nine-member larger bench.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Mansoor Usman Awan informed the court that in pursuance of court’s last order a report was filed in the apex court stating that 20 people who have completed their sentences and were released before Eid-ul-Fitr.

“All this should be placed on court’s record so that we could know as to what procedure has been adopted by the military courts during the trials of convicted persons,” Justice Shahid Waheed told the AG.

“We also want to see whether fair trial of the accused persons were conducted as required under Article 10-A of the Constitution,” he further observed.

Similarly, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar asked the AG that they want to see as to whether the military courts had provided an opportunity to the accused persons for hiring their counsels as per their choice or not.

Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, one of the petitioners, rose and informed the court that the military court did not issue certificates to those who were in custody for a year. The court, however, observed that there is no such certificate.

Meanwhile, Hafeezullah Niazi also appeared before the court and complained that his son Hasaan Niazi was missing.

At this, the court asked the AG to look into the matter and inform it after taking details in this regard.

Later, the court referred the ICAs to the committee for constitution of a larger bench.

On Wednesday, the PTI and family members urged the Supreme Court to immediately form a larger bench to hear the cases of civilians in military custody.

PTI Central Information Secretary Raoof Hasan, Barrister Abuzar Salman Niazi, former chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan Khalid Khursheed, and family members of the civilians in military custody, along with PTI senior leader Ali Muhammad Khan, who headed the PTI prisoners committee, addressed a news conference here Wednesday.

Raoof said that the majority of the detainees were well-educated and the sole breadwinners of their respective families, yet they were unjustly implicated in false and fabricated cases, which seemed nothing but a war of ego. Ali Muhammad said that all legal fraternities, irrespective of political affiliation, were unanimous on the point that civilian trials in military courts were unconstitutional, limiting the forums of fair trials and justice available in civil courts.