KARACHI / ISLAMABAD: Mystery shrouds a purported appeal by the Sindh government — challenging the Supreme Court decision to strike down military trials of civilians under the Pakistan Army Act 1952 — after the caretaker provincial government distanced itself from the development on Saturday.

The statement from the CM House came two days after it was reported that an appeal had landed in the Supreme Court on behalf of the provincial government. The current status of the appeal is “infructuous”.

According to a statement issued by the CM’s House on Saturday, “The caretaker Sindh government has clarified that appeal in ‘Trial of Civilians before Military Courts’ case has not been filed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.”

A letter penned by the Sindh advocate general on Nov 17 informed the principal secretary to the chief minister, the caretaker provincial law minister, and the law and parliamentary affairs secretary that no appeal in the said matter was filed. Sources told Dawn that the summary to appeal against the top court verdict was not even placed before caretaker CM Maqbool Baqar — who is himself a former SC judge.

Caretaker CM, provincial law officer ‘not in the loop’; 17-page appeal drafted by lawyer after consultations with bureaucrats

‘Several sessions’

Interestingly, the 17-page appeal drafted by Jahanzeb Awan, head of litigation at Karachi-based Haidermota and Co, materialised after ‘several sessions’.

Sources said that the provincial bureaucracy briefed Mr Awan about the case to prepare an appeal.

They said an appeal against the SC short order was finalised after a few sessions with the lawyer and was ready to be filed in the Supreme Court. The doc­uments annexed with the appeal included the short order, copy of the grounds of the petition filed before the bench, co­m­ments of the appellant, relevant extracts from the Pakistan Army Act, the International Court of Justice Review and Reconsideration Act 2021, copy of press releases of the Inter-Services Pub­lic Relations — the media wing of the army — and foreign ministry, list of under-custody individuals, copies of the FIRs registered against the suspects of May 9 violence, affidavits of the appellant, and the AOR.

Mr Awan was approa­c­hed for comment and said he would get back to Dawn with his version, but rem­ained unavailable until the time of going to press.

After it came to the top court, the appeal was entrusted to advocate on record (AOR) Mohammad Sharif Janjua. Talking to Dawn, Mr Janjua said that initially he was appointed as AOR in this matter and the ‘vakalatnama’ (power of attorney) was also issued in his name.

He was supposed to make the appeal in order to file it before the Institution Branch of the Supreme Court, but it came as a surprise to him that the “appeal was transmitted to someone else”.

The copy of the appeal was then ‘leaked’ to the media making headlines in the broadcast, digital and print media.

However, sources said that the advocate general office was not in the loop and since it did not accord consent to the appeal, therefore, it could not be numbered by the court’s staff.

In the letter, the incharge Supreme Court Cell of the Office of the Advocate General Sindh clarified that the appeal against the trial of civilians in the military court has not been filed before the Supreme Court.

Former senior puisne judge of Islamabad High Court Noorul Haq Qureshi, who also hails from Sindh, said retired Justice Baqar “commands the respect of the Supreme Court [judges] for being an upright judge”.

He said Mr Baqar might have thought that being a caretaker chief minister, it was not his domain to file an appeal against the apex court’s order and that too in a case that does not pertain to the province.

“Even otherwise, an appeal can be filed by an aggrieved person and party. The Sindh government was not aggrieved of the judgement on the trial of civilians in the military courts as there are very rare instances of court-martialing a civilian in the province”, he said.

“I think the bureaucracy was behind preparing the petition and tried to file it without the approval of the chief minister,” he claimed.

According to him, the counsel who drafted the petition was not doing it on his own. “Someone must have briefed him after engaging him in the case.”

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2023

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