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Protection for military courts

Updated Feb 26, 2015 07:11am

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President Mamnoon Hussain.—AP/File
President Mamnoon Hussain.—AP/File

IN a strange, mostly unexplained twist, President Mamnoon Hussain has promulgated an ordinance further revising the recently amended Army Act to ostensibly aid the functioning of military courts by allowing for trials in camera, ie without the presence of the public or the media, and over video link if necessary.

The idea, according to a special assistant of the prime minister who handles legal matters, is to enhance security for presiding officers, military prosecutors, witnesses and defence lawyers by shielding their identity from the public and the media.

Take a look: Security for military court judges and prosecutors

While that may seem like a sensible idea — and only at first blush — it is quite incredible that already the law dealing with military courts is being amended in such a clandestine manner and without any debate.

The need for a presidential ordinance — a legislative tool that has been used in the past to undermine parliamentary democracy — points to either one of two problems.

Military courts were either mooted in haste and only now are the real-world impediments to their functioning becoming apparent, hence the need to tweak the law.

Or the government and the military which demanded such courts do not feel obliged to maintain any level of transparency in the operation of these courts and are now confident enough to introduce changes that essentially seal off their functioning from any kind of public and media scrutiny.

Consider the great irony of this latest presidential ordinance: if special courts and anti-terrorism courts had been given the same protections (in-camera proceedings and video links to protect identities of prosecutors, judges and witnesses), the same urgent resources and the same level of attention by the senior-most state functionaries, perhaps the need for military courts would not have been felt in the first place.

With this latest presidential ordinance, it appears that the government and military officials ultimately do want to create a parallel judicial system — a closed-off system of courts where public scrutiny is minimal, or even non-existent, and everything is justified in the name of the national interest and protecting the people.

That criticism is not unjustified. Military courts were mooted as a very narrow and very limited solution to a very serious problem: hardcore terrorists and terrorist masterminds who needed to be convicted and remain convicts in a broken criminal justice system.

Already though there are suggestions in various quarters, usually in response to an unforeseen and undesirable event, that the scope of military courts be expanded. Perhaps the senator who suggested getting military courts involved in the World Cup cricketing debacle of the Pakistani team was only being facetious or spoke in mock frustration, but it has already been seen how voices have called for military courts to deal with Karachi law-and-order woes.

Military courts must not become the new normal — and clandestine, unexplained changes to the law must be resisted.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2015

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Comments (5) Closed



Feroz Feb 26, 2015 11:10am

The faster the nation understands that it is under martial law with an elected but neutered Parliament, the lesser the disappointment. A real coup would have invited sanctions so this arrangement suits everyone except those who are going to be caught and brought before Military Courts.

Mian Shahid Mehmood Feb 26, 2015 11:26am

Statement of a Minister to try the cricket players in military courts cannot be call an act of shear frustration but it shows lack of knowledge on his part and the mindset of misusing such special courts for any ulterior purpose, like the one done in the past when all cases either of politicians or normal civil crimes were sent to Anti-terrorism Court, making mockery of the law and the courts. Military courts should be used strictly for the purpose for which the courts are being established.

Raj Feb 26, 2015 02:59pm

This appears to be a very dangerous trend and will be abused totally by Military courts to eliminate all those who are hurdles in the way of military. But, without any accountability and with full protection.

Abid Feb 26, 2015 09:34pm

Why does a democracy require a parallel judicial system (i.e military courts)?

Our elected politicians have failed to legislate making our judicial system functional by ensuring speedy justice, providing protection to judges and witnesses from dangerous criminals & terrorist and by penalizing those involved in obstruction of justice (such as false witnesses). And, the criminals have taken full advantage of our broken judicial system.

A dysfunctional judicial system is bound to lead our society to a failure. Today, the criminals, be it corrupt politicians, or terrorists, have no fear of punishment.

hasan Feb 27, 2015 07:51am

Our country is facing extreme terrorism So handling it requires strict legislation and measures.terrorists are slaughtering are people and we say we will deal with them with soft rules and regulations. Our politicians and especially judges are responsible for our broken judicial system. Military courts should be supported by full means to uproot terrorism