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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court noted that due process and fair trial were not complied with in the murder trial of the founder of Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) by the Lahore High Court (LHC) and of appeal by the apex court.

A nine-member SC bench, headed by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, and comprising Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Yahya Afridi, Justice Aminuddin Khan, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi, and Justice Mussarat Hilali, on Wednesday, unanimously, delivered opinion on a Presidential Reference, which it had reserved on March 4.

As the chief justice was reading the opinion, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari came to the rostrum along with Farooq H Naek and Raza Rabbani. Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan and AAGP Aamir Rehman were also standing there. Bilawal tried to control his emotions by repeatedly wiping tears with a handkerchief. The PPP chairman termed the decision to hang ZAB a “stain” on the apex court as he thanked the judges, judicial assistants, and lawyers for positively concluding the case. The PPP government on April 02, 2011 had filed a reference to reopen the case of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged on April 4, 1979, in Rawalpindi. Former president Zardari had forwarded the reference under clauses 1 and 2 of Article 186 of the Constitution.

The written opinion stated; “In the course of performing our core duty to administer justice ‘in accordance with the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the law’, we (judges) are bound to ‘do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.’”

“There have been some cases in our judicial history that created a public perception that either fear or favour deterred the performance of our duty to administer justice in accordance with the law. We must; therefore, be willing to confront our past missteps and fallibilities with humility, in the spirit of self-accountability, and as a testament to our commitment to ensure that justice shall be served with unwavering integrity and fidelity to the law. We cannot correct ourselves and progress in the right direction until we acknowledge our past mistakes.”

The advisory jurisdiction, under Article 186 of the Constitution, requires this Court to render an opinion on any question of law of public importance referred to by the president.

“To us, the question of law, in essence, is whether the requirements of due process and fair trial were complied with in the murder trial of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (Bhutto), the former prime minister of Pakistan, by the trial court (the Lahore High Court) and the appellate court (the Supreme Court).” The Court stated that the reference provided an opportunity to reflect upon the proceedings of the trial, conviction and death sentence of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, under the regime of the military dictator General Ziaul Haq.

It said the reference was filed during the PPP government, but the successive governments of other major political parties, including the interim governments, carried forward this inquiry and did not opt to withdraw the reference. “This collective interest reflects the widespread desire of the people of Pakistan to seek the opinion of this Court on whether Bhutto was afforded a fair trial and due process for his trial for the murder of Muhammad Ahmed Khan Kasuri.”

With the able assistance of the eminent legal minds of the country, we for the reasons to be recorded later and subject to amplifications and explanations made therein, render an opinion on the referred questions in the following terms:

Question (1) Whether the decision of the Lahore High Court as well as the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the murder trial against Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto meets the requirements of fundamental rights as guaranteed under Article 4, sub-Articles (1) and (2) (a), Article 8, Article 9, Article 10A/due process, Article 14, Article 25 of the Constitution? If it does not, its effect and consequences?

Opinion: (i) The proceedings of the trial by the Lahore High Court and of the appeal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan do not meet the requirements of the Fundamental Right to a fair trial and due process enshrined in Articles 4 and 9 of the Constitution and later guaranteed as a separate and independent Fundamental Right under Article 10A of the Constitution. (ii) The Constitution and the law do not provide a mechanism to set aside the judgment whereby Bhutto was convicted and sentenced; the said judgment attained finality after the dismissal of the review petition by this Court.

Question (2): Whether the conviction leading to execution of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto could be termed as a decision of the Supreme Court binding on all other courts being based upon or enunciating the principle of law in terms of Article 189 of the Constitution? If not, its effect and consequences?

Opinion: Referenced questions do not specify the principle of law enunciated by this Court in the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto case regarding which our opinion is sought. Therefore, it cannot be answered whether any principle of law enunciated in the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto case has already been dissented to or overruled.

Questions (3) and (5): Whether in the peculiar circumstances of this case awarding and maintaining of the death sentence was justified or it could amount to deliberate murder keeping in view the glaring bias against Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto?

Whether on the basis of conclusions arrived at and inferences drawn from the evidence/ material in the case an order for conviction and sentence against Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto could have been recorded?

Opinion: In its advisory jurisdiction under Article 186 of the Constitution, this Court cannot reappraise the evidence and undo the decision of the case. However, in our detailed reasons, we shall identify the major constitutional and legal lapses that had occurred with respect to fair trial and due process.

Question (4): Whether the decision in the case of murder trial against Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto fulfils the requirements of Islamic laws as codified in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (SAW)? If so, whether present case is covered by doctrine of repentance specifically mentioned in the following Suras of Holy Quran: (a) Sura Al-Nisa, verses 17 and 18; Sura Al-Baqarah, verses 159, 160 and 222; Sura Al-Maida, verse 39; Sura Al-Aaraaf, verse 153; Sura Al-Taha, verse 82; as well as (b) Sunan Ibn-e-Maaja, Chapter 171, Hadith No 395. What are effects and consequences of doctrine – Re: Repentance.

Opinion: “We were not rendered any assistance on this question; therefore, it would be inappropriate to render an opinion”.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024


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KU Mar 07, 2024 10:48am
What about millions of Pakistanis who are faced with unfair process of law, and embroiled in cases for over 60 years? Maybe its because we are common and unknown citizens. Very ugly state of justice.
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