'We can't ignore the law': SC acquits murder suspect a decade after imprisonment

February 12, 2019

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Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa berates magistrate for failing to follow legal procedure. — File photo
Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa berates magistrate for failing to follow legal procedure. — File photo

The Supreme Court on Tuesday acquitted a man — who had been handed a life sentence by the Lahore High Court (LHC) in a murder case — 10 years after his imprisonment.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa, who headed the three-member bench that heard the case, said that the prosecution had been unable to prove its allegations against Asfandyar during the murder trial in the high court. He berated the magistrate, Kanwar Anwar Ali, for not following the legal procedure and failing to conduct the identity parade properly and summoned him in person on Feb 22.

"It is distressing to see such cases," he said. "Why are [suspects] treated like this? A child was killed and the suspect was convicted due to the magistrate's failure to hold an identity parade properly and follow legal procedure."

The top judge insisted that people "who are supposed to follow the law" should be held answerable.

"Aren't they trained before being appointed as magistrate?" he asked. Asfandyar's lawyer told the top judge that legal training is provided before appointing someone as magistrate.

In 2009, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) had found Asfandyar guilty of murdering Adil Butt, a student. According to the prosecution, Asfandyar had kidnapped Butt for ransom and killed him after the victim's family failed to pay the money. The case was later heard by the LHC that overturned the ATC's verdict and sentenced him to life.

During the hearing today, Justice Khosa asked why the ATC and LHC had failed to "look at the law".

"We can't ignore the law and sentence a man," he said.

He also pointed out the differences in the statements recorded by the witnesses, that differed in the number of men that were seen disposing of the victim's body. The chief justice raised questions over the procedure that the police followed to determine the guilt of a suspect.

"It seems like the testimonies were developed after the suspect was arrested," he observed and asked how the police had reached the suspect. Asfandyar's lawyer said that an "informer" had told police about the suspect's involvement. The police later found out that the suspect had disposed of the body in a stream, he added.

"Everyday we see that police get to the suspect immediately. The suspect is real but all the testimonies are false," Justice Khosa regretted. "Where will the law go if we shut our eyes as well? Someone has to start [ensuring that the law is being followed]."

Since assuming the position of top judge last month, Justice Khosa has rued the practice of recording false testimonies and flawed rulings by lower courts. While hearing a review petition in a rape case in January, he pointed out that an innocent person could be "sentenced to death because of [a] false statement". He has also criticised high courts for "ignoring evidence".

In the detailed judgement of the Supreme Court's verdict in the Khadija Siddiqui stabbing case, he expressed hope that the "high court [would] do better in this regard in future". The top court had overturned a decision passed by the Lahore High Court which acquitted Shah Hussain, the youth accused of stabbing classmate Khadija 23 times.