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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed civil society’s request to form a Full Court for hearing the petitions against the trial of civilians, arrested in light of May 9 incidents, by military courts.

The chief justice asked Faisal Siddiqui, lawyer of civil society members, that they had heard him and discussed the matter of constituting a Full Court. He said for two reasons the larger bench could not function.

First, presently, there are some judges of this bench who are on summer vacation, but they came back for the hearing of this case. “Therefore, there has to be a time limit.”

Second, there are other judges of this bench who are waiting to be relieved, but because of this case, they are here. “In view of that Full Court is not available till the 2nd week of September.”

Trial of civilians by military courts: SC reserves verdict on civil society’s plea for full court

“We don’t look for anyone’s support except Allah, the Almighty. We continue to work whether someone likes it or not, or criticises it. People of Pakistan and history will decide which law will prevail; therefore, we will carry on with these proceedings,” the chief justice said.

Faisal Siddiqui had filed an application with the reasons that two lessons can be drawn from past judicial history and judicial practice.

First, no judgment of a Full Court has ever been subverted or not implemented by the State, including the military dictators. Second, in the past matters of major constitutional importance and complexity, including cases involving the constitutionality of military trials, have been heard by larger benches of nine judges and above or Full Court.

He asked the chief justice to constitute a Full Court comprising judges who are willing and available to be a part of it for adjudication on fundamental and complex constitutional and legal questions.

A six-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Yahya Afridi, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, and Justice Ayesha A Malik heard the petitions.

The Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) informed the bench that the legislation to provide appeal against the military courts’ judgments is under way. He said in the last few days several amendments were made in the Army Act and the laws were passed. He told he was able to attend some committee meetings and was aware of some changes made to the law.

“You are giving this statement in front of the bench,” Justice Naqvi noted, to which, Awan replied that he was just stating facts.

The AGP submitted that he sought instructions from the GHQ. “I will go back again and have discussion and they might address the petitioners’ concern of providing appeal to High Court that can examine the entire process. Tomorrow, I may come back with some roadmap.”

However, he said there are four aspects that need to be considered for providing appeal against the military courts: (i) Persons who are not citizens of Pakistan, but come under the Army Act because of the espionage and charged under Official Secrets Act.

Their matter went to the International Court of Justice under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. (ii) Other are the citizens of Pakistan, but are charged with espionage and under Official Secrets Act. (iii) Citizens or not citizens of Pakistan but were arrested on the basis of terrorism and charged under Army Act, and (iv) People already subject to the Army Act.

Before announcing that Full Court cannot be constituted, the chief justice called Faisal Siddiqui and said: “We have heard you Siddiqui Sahib; you are well respected not only because of professional skills, but humanistic nature. We have seen you helping the poor litigants seeking justice. We appreciate your concerns.”

At the outset of the proceeding, AGP Mansoor Usman Awan submitted that the assurances were given about 102 persons, who are in military custody. He told that facilities like visitation by families are afforded to the detenues. Safeguards in trial are; they can engage counsel of their choice as it happens in ordinary law.

Similarly, the military courts’ judgments would be detailed one with findings and no likelihood of capital punishment or life imprisonment.

He said the respect and dignity of the detenues will be ensured. None of them will be mistreated in an inhuman manner. They are afforded medical care and the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) vicinity is standby if any of the detenue needs medical treatment. He further informed if any of the 102 accused is mistreated it will immediately be reported to the presiding officer of the military court, and immediate action will be taken of mistreatment. The case was adjourned until today (Thursday).

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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