THE legal system in Pakistan leaves much to be desired, with cases at times dragging on for decades, while litigants endlessly wait for justice. However, when it comes to capital punishment — which is irreversible and which this newspaper does not support — the lacunae in the justice system become even more apparent, as they concern matters of life and death. One recent case has again highlighted the need for urgent reform of the justice system as a whole. As reported on Tuesday, convict Mohammad Anwar’s death sentence was commuted by the Supreme Court in a murder case after he had spent 28 years in jail as it found him to be a juvenile at the time the offence was committed. He was arrested in 1993 and sentenced by a lower court in 1998; thereafter, his case sluggishly made its way through the judicial system. In the meantime, a presidential order was notified in 2001 granting special remission in capital punishment cases to juveniles under the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance 2000. Though Anwar applied for his death sentence to be converted to a life term soon after the presidential order was issued, after a lengthy back and forth his juvenility has just been confirmed.

Though the man has been mercifully spared the gallows, a large chunk of his life has been spent behind bars when the law provided for remission. Anwar’s is not the only case of its kind and if Pakistan’s legal system is carefully examined, many more such grave miscarriages of justice may emerge. As this paper has argued before, juvenile justice laws need to be better implemented so youngsters are reformed and given another chance at life. Moreover, the case quoted above also highlights the need to speed up and improve the investigation and trial process. There can be no justification for keeping a person behind bars for nearly three decades only for the law to later realise that the statute books contained a remedy.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2021

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