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LAHORE: A Lahore High Court division bench on Wednesday appointed a criminal law expert as amicus curiae (friend of court) to decide the legal point whether an offense under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 was compoundable (reconcilable).

The bench headed by Justice Sardar Shamim Khan was hearing a matter regarding acquittal of PML-N MNA Chaudhry Abid Raza Kotla and others following compromise in a murder case that also carried death penalty under the anti-terrorism law.

The acquittal judgement, now suspended by the Supreme Court, was delivered in 2003 by a division bench headed by then chief justice Iftikhar Hussain Chaudhry (late).

An anti-terrorism court of Gujranwala had in 1999 convicted Mr Kotla and others, handing them down death penalty under Section 302 of the PPC and Section 7 of the ATA as well.

The conviction was challenged before the high court.

However, the appeal against conviction was not decided on merit, rather it was disposed of after the parties had a compromise. The sentence under the PPC was revoked.

The bench in its decision skipped the examination of the effect of the sentence under section 7 of ATA (non-compoundable) and the prosecution never challenged the acquittal.

The Supreme Court in June 2016 suspended the 2003 judgment and restored the conviction of Mr Kotla and others under the special law (ATA). The apex court granted bail to them and remanded the case to the high court.

During the Wednesday’s hearing, Mr Kotla’s counsel Khwaja Haris did not appear before the bench due to his engagement in Islamabad. A representative of his chamber assured the bench that the counsel would turn up on Thursday.

The bench decided to hold further proceedings of the case on a day-to-day basis from today (Thursday) and appointed Advocate Usman Naseem as amicus curie to assist the court on the legal points involved in it.

Previously, the counsel for MNA Kotla and other convicts had argued that the section 7 of the ATA was not attracted in the case. They argued that the high court would have to hear appeal against the conviction on merits if it maintained death penalty under the special law.

The counsel further argued that the omission from conviction under section 7 of ATA in the 2003 decision was on part of the court and the acquitted convicts could not be punished for that error.

Abid Raza Kotla was elected to the National Assembly from NA-71, Gujrat.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2018