LAHORE: A Lahore High Court three-judge full bench, with a majority decision of two to one, on Friday suspended the new Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formed by the Punjab government to hold a fresh probe into the 2014 Model Town incident.
Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan, who headed the full bench, dissented from the majority view of other two members — Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan and Justice Aalia Neelum.
Khurram Rafiq and other police officials facing trial in the Model Town case had filed petitions challenging the legitimacy of the new JIT.
Senior lawyers Azam Nazir Tarar and Burhan Moazam Malik represented the petitioners and mainly argued that the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C) and Anti Terrorism Act 1997 did not allow formation of fresh investigation in a case after submission of challan and framing of charges in particular.
They stated that the trial in the Model Town case initiated on a private complaint filed by Idara Minhajul Quran/Pakistan Awami Tehreek was near conclusion as 86 out of 135 witnesses had been testified before the trial court. They said a judicial inquiry and a JIT had already investigated the firing incident.
Questioning the formation of the new JIT, the lawyers had taken a plea that the Supreme Court in its decision had not ordered constitution of the new JIT but the Punjab government itself told the court that it decided to hold a fresh investigation in the case. Later, the government on Jan 3, 2019 formed the impugned JIT in clear violation of settled laws, said the lawyers.
During the hearing, an assistant advocate general remained present in court but he did not come up with arguments saying he was yet to receive instructions from the government side.
The bench reserved the verdict on maintainability of the petitions before Friday prayer and announced it around 6:20pm when Advocate General of Punjab (AGP) Ahmad Awais along with other law officers was present in the courtroom to complain about being unheard in the case.
Mr Awais claimed that the office of the advocate general had no formal information from court about Friday’s proceedings. He said it was very unprecedented that a decision was being announced without hearing the view of the government.
The bench snubbed the principal law officer asking him to lower his tone when ‘arguments’ of the latter turned a little loud. “I am trying to make myself heard by the bench,” retorted Mr Awais.
‘Don’t try to pressurise the court,” Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan reminded the AGP and told him that a law officer remained present in court during the whole proceedings.
Justice Qasim Khan asked the AGP to adopt due legal course if he had any reservation on the decision.
The bench with the majority view declared the petitions maintainable, suspended the notification of the impugned JIT and issued a notice to the government. Next date of hearing will be fixed by the office.
LHC Chief Justice Sardar Muhammad Shamim Khan had constituted the three-judge full bench to hear the matter after the lawyers of the petitioners during a Jan 31 hearing argued before a division bench that a larger bench should decide the questions involved in the case.
The new JIT headed by inspector general of national highways & motorways police A.D Khwaja recently interrogated former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Kot Lakhpat jail and recorded his statement about his alleged role in the Model Town incident.
Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif, former law minister Rana Sanaullah Khan and other ex-ministers of the PML-N had also appeared before the JIT to record their statements.
On June 17, 2014, at least 14 people were killed and 100 others injured when police opened fire to disperse protesting activists of the PAT during an ‘anti-encroachment’ operation outside the residence of Dr Tahirul Qadri.
The PAT had filed a private complaint before an anti-terrorism court against then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, then Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif and almost all federal and provincial cabinet of PML-N besides officials of police and district administration accusing them of killing its workers.
Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2019