The Supreme Court on Wednesday adjourned the hearing of Mukhtar Mai gang rape case's review petition till March 27 after the suspects appeared in the court without a legal counsel.
A three-member bench of the apex court, under Justice Gulzar Ahmed's stewardship, heard the review petition today which the defendant, through her counsel Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, had filed against the suspects' acquittal in May 2011.
Upon being asked by Justice Gulzar where their counsels were, the suspects replied that they received court's notices the prior evening only and so were not able to get legal help. "Besides, we cannot afford to hire lawyers," they added.
"We are giving you an opportunity to appoint your legal counsel," Justice Gulzar said as he instructed the suspects to appear before the court with their lawyers in the next hearing on March 27.
Mai was gang-raped in June 2002 on the orders of a village council as punishment after her younger brother was accused of having illicit relations with a woman from a rival clan.
Mukhtar Mai: More questions than answers
She had accused 14 men of being involved in the rape and in Aug 2002, an anti-terrorism court had sentenced six men to death — four for raping Mai and two for being part of that jirga. The remaining eight were released.
Later, the Lahore High Court's Multan bench, on separate appeals, acquitted five of the convicts and converted the death sentence of Abdul Khaliq to life imprisonment.
Mai had subsequently challenged their acquittal in the top court. However, the Supreme Court, in its April 2011 verdict, had rejected her appeal by a majority of two to one — much to the consternation of rights activists.
That three member bench had featured Mian Shakirullah Jan and future chief justices Nasirul Mulk and Mian Saqib Nisar. The dissenting note was penned by Nasirul Mulk.
Mai, whose ordeal and struggle for justice has seen her become the voice of oppressed women, sought the constitution of a larger bench, instead of a three-judge bench.
In her review petition, Mai stated that the apex court's verdict was a great miscarriage of justice because it stemmed from misreading and non-reading of material evidence on file.
Appearing on behalf of the petitioner, senior counsel Ahsan had argued that there were at least nine instances where evidence had not been noticed, which was enough to prove that the 2011 judgment could not be sustained and was therefore contrary to the fundamental rules of dispensation of justice.
Though the recently retired Nisar had ruled against Mai in the court's April 2011 verdict, in April 2014, a bench under his stewardship had sought all the evidence in the case — only to be informed that the evidence was not available in the court’s records as it had been sent back to the trial court.