EDITORIAL: Pakistan’s judicial history is replete with miscarriages of justice. Starting from 1955 when Justice Mohammad Munir propounded the ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ there is a long list of the highest judicial forum making lawful what was clearly unlawful.

The worst blot on it is the case of the elected prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was ousted in a 1977 military coup, and two years later sent to the gallows. Those fateful events cast a dark shadow over the democratic process till to date.

Taking up a reference filed by the then President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari in 2011, that sought the Supreme Court’s opinion on the case under its advisory jurisdiction, a nine-member bench of the court offered closure to Bhutto’s surviving family and many others declaring that his trial was unfair and lacked due process.

Admitting past mistakes said the court in its short order, delivered by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa on Wednesday, that “there have been some cases in our judicial history which created a perception that either fear or favour deterred the performance of our duty to administer justice in accordance with the law”.

Hopefully, besides identifying the major constitutional and legal lapses that occurred during the trial and in the apex court appeal, the detailed opinion will also name and shame the judges who thought nothing of taking a precious life due to personal consideration.

Widely viewed by the people as a ‘judicial murder’ and a blatant injustice by legal experts the case has never been used as precedent by courts. The manner in which the then chief justice of the Lahore High Court Justice Maulvi Mushtaq Hussain conducted the trial of former prime minister right from the outset and then pronounced death sentence had left no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was acting out of grudge (Bhutto is said to have denied him a posting he badly wanted) or to do a favour to Bhutto’s nemesis, General Ziaul Haq. The Supreme Court also upheld the death penalty by a split 4-3 decision.

Such a wafer-thin majority verdict normally leads to conversion of death sentence into life imprisonment, but no such leniency was shown to Bhutto. The apex court also rejected a review petition filed on his behalf, ostensibly, because of absence of any error floating on the surface of its previous verdict.

That all this was the result of fear/favour was later publicly acknowledge by Justice Nasim Hassan Shah who gave the guilty verdict along with three other members of the bench, and rose to be the chief justice of Pakistan.

There was not enough evidence, he explained in a TV interview, to justify the guilty verdict, confessing that he had acted under “pressure” which he regretted. Over 44 years on, Bhutto is still revered by many whilst those who had no qualms about sending him to gallows remain reviled. This though failed to serve as sobering lesson to most of those who followed them.

Noting public perception that fear or favour prevent fair administration of justice, asserted the bench hearing the reference, “we must, therefore, be willing to confront our past missteps and fallibility with humility, in the spirit of self-accountability and as testament to our commitment to ensure justice shall be served with unwavering integrity and fidelity for the law.” Very fine words these. Only time will prove their veracity, however.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024


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KU Mar 09, 2024 11:56am
The hue and cry on past wrongs proves only one thing, the rich and famous are highlighted while common people must suffer as mere citizens. This is the veracity of justice in our society.
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