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January 20, 2015

Online proceedings in terror cases ‘a viable option’


January 20, 2015

A debate is going on in the country for a couple of weeks relating to the working of military courts and their legal, constitutional complexities and implications. The Peshawar tragedy got united all political forces of the country and parliamentary political parties decided unanimously to eliminate terrorism from the country.
With approval of the 21st Amendment in the Constitution, the government constituted military courts for a period of two years to flush out the menace of terrorism from the country. Amidst ongoing situation when the country is facing a series of internal and external challenges, military courts are being considered like a final blow to knock down terrorism. While deciding anomalies for military courts, there is another possibility to speed up justice system by seeking arrangements to ensure video link or online proceedings of terrorism-related cases.
There are only a few cases in which terrorists got punishment during last couple of years as terror suspects got advantage of poor challans and absence of solid evidence against them. Secondly, there are reports that judges received threats for giving fair judgment in terrorism cases. In such cases, either the court released terror suspects for unavailability of solid evidence or judges got scared for giving verdicts in terror cases.
The online proceedings of terrorism-related cases will negate all such excuses to punish terror suspects. In open courts, usually, witnesses avoid giving their statements due to fear of terror groups and individuals. Witnesses hesitate to record their statements or avoid appearing before courts that gives advantage to terror suspects. Sometimes, law enforcement agencies fail to give solid evidence and terror suspects get released on court orders in many cases.
If proceedings in terrorism cases get online through video-links where all concerned are inter-linked through video and audio linkages, the terror suspect doesn't know who is

administering hearing in his case and who is the witness and who is prosecuting the entire hearing, thus lessening the threat element.
There are many examples in the world, where these arrangements were employed in special situations. With approval of the 21st Amendment, the military courts have been constituted for a period of two years and the option of online proceedings of terror suspects can be adopted in the long run.
Rizwan Abbasi, an advocate of the high court dealing with high-profile terrorism cases, when contacted, said that the Anti-Terrorism Act allows video link proceeding of terrorism cases.
"Proceedings may be held in-camera or under restricted entry of public, whenever necessary, for protection of judges, witnesses or the victim's family members or to prevent persons from crowding or storming the court to intimidate the judge or to create a threat," concluded Abbasi, quoting the concerned paragraph of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
A senior lawyer, commenting on the online proceedings for terror suspects, stated that there is no provision in the existing law for such an arrangement; however, the Anti-Terrorism Act allows the online trial of suspects in terrorism cases. As Pakistan is in a state of war, these anomalies can be defined further through some constitutional amendment.
Quoting the Memogate scandal case, he said that in that particular case the court allowed recording of statements by witnesses through video-link arrangements. The military courts are being constituted for a period of two years and taking advantages from this time the government should arrange special training courses for prosecutors to conduct proceedings through video and audio links, he suggested.
He elaborated that during working of the military courts, the government should devise modus operandi for future course of action relating to terrorism cases and online proceedings of terror suspects is a workable suggestion.
Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, sharing his opinion, said that as per Pakistan Penal Code, the appearance of the witness before the court is a must to record his statement, however, special measures could be sought out relating to the ongoing challenges of the country.
He said that Section-164 of the Law of Evidence defines anomalies relating online trials of terror suspects and possibility of audio video proceedings could be ensured with amendment in this law.
The online trials of terror suspects could be employed in the long run or by military courts as well. The ongoing era is of communication where 60-70 per cent populace has access to communication gadgets. If terrorists can use technology for their nefarious designs, it can also be used for giving them punishment.
The committee, which has been tasked to define procedure for working of the military courts, should give a serious thought to this aspect.

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