KARACHI: Set up for speedy trial, the overburdened antiterrorism courts (ATCs) in Sindh are unable to decide cases within the stipulated time as several cases have been pending trial for more than a decade, it emerged on Friday.
Around 3,200 cases are pending before the ATCs across the province, while around 2,700 cases are to be adjudicated in Karachi only.
The ATCs were established under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 for speedy trial of cases pertaining to terrorism, sectarian and targeted killing, extortion and kidnapping for ransom.
An ATC is legally bound to decide a case within seven days after indictment. According to Section 19 (7) of the ATA, the court shall, on taking cognizance of a case, proceed with the trial on a day-to-day basis and shall decide it within seven days, failing which an application may be made to the administrative judge of the high court concerned for appropriate directions for an expeditious disposal of the case.
It is mentioned in Section 13 (2) of the ATA that one case at a time shall be assigned to a court. However, if for some reason a given case cannot be proceeded with, more than one case may be assigned to it to save time.
While courts are supposed to decide cases within seven days, some have been lingering on for over a decade
Currently a huge backlog of cases is one of the main reasons behind the inordinate delay in their disposal, as the overburdened ATCs are unable to decide the cases within the stipulated period. Such a backlog of cases has left court staff with no option but to fix at least 10 to 15 cases for hearing on a daily basis with the result that it becomes almost impossible to hear all the cases on a day-to-day basis.
The province had 20 ATCs, including 10 in Karachi and one each in Hyderabad, Badin, Mirpurkhas, Khairpur, Shaheed Benazirabad, Sukkur, Larkana, Shikarpur, Ghotki and Kashmore/Kandhkot while some sessions courts in Karachi have also been authorised to try the cases registered under the ATA.
The government recently established 10 more ATCs in Karachi. While two of them started hearing cases, the remaining eight are likely to be made functional soon.
Sources said the provincial authorities might set up one more ATC in Hyderabad and Sukkur in order to clear the backlog of cases.
However, the purpose to establish the ATCs seems to remain unserved, as over-decade-old cases have yet to be decided.
More than 10 cases have been pending trial at different ATCs for around a decade.
Qasim Toori, an alleged member of the proscribed Jundullah, had been charged with masterminding an attack on a convoy of the then Karachi corps commander in 2004 in Clifton, while he along with his accomplice is also facing trial for allegedly engaging in a massive shoot-out with the police and other law enforcement agencies in which two policemen were killed in Shah Latif Town in January 2008.
Also, the trial of the 2006 Nishtar Park bombing case, two cases (FIRs 44/04 and 52/04) registered under Section 302 of Pakistan Penal Code and Explosive Substances Act against alleged activists of Jundullah, Atta-ur-Rehman and others, is also pending.
The trial of Attaullah and other suspects of the proscribed Lashkar-i-Jhangvi for the murder of Ehteshamuddin Haider, the elder brother of former Sindh governor and federal minister retired Lt-Gen Moinuddin Haider, has been pending since 2001.
Around five cases pertaining to sectarian killings and illicit weapons against Mohammad Ajmal, better known as Akram Lahori, the alleged chief of the LJ, and his aides have been pending before ATCs since 2002.
Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2017