ISLAMABAD: Justice Shahid Waheed, a senior judge of the Supreme Court, has highlighted the need for early hearing of the military court cases since the issues highlighted in the case involve lives and liberties of citizens.

“All these cases be set down for hearing as soon as possible because the questions involved therein concern the lives and liberties of citizens,” Justice Waheed wrote in his additional note which was part of the five-page SC order released on Saturday.

The order pertains to the April 24 hearing of a set of Intra-Court Appeals (ICA) against the Oct 23 unanimous ruling of declaring as illegal the military trials of civilians.

A six-judge bench, headed by Justice Aminuddin Khan, ordered on April 24 that the ICAs be placed before a three-judge committee set up under Section 2 of the SC (Practice and Procedure) Act, 2023 by the SC registrar for consideration of the reasons advanced by the defence counsel for the constitution of a larger bench.

Five-page order on a set of intra-court appeals issued

The SC on Dec 13, 2023, by a majority of five to one, had suspended the operation of its Oct 23 short order that nullified the trial of 103 civilians identified in relation to their alleged involvement in the May 9 violence and had issued a direction that the military courts could commence the trial of 103 individuals, but they would not announce any final decision of awarding conviction or acquittal until the pendency of government’s instituted ICAs.

Earlier on April 8, the federal government through Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan had told the SC that 20 persons who were convicted for their role in the May 9 violence were released so that they could celebrate Eidul Fitr with their family after they had either served out jail terms or granted remission by the army chief.

A list of 20 individuals had also been furnished before the SC stating in pursuance to the SC directions on March 28, the military courts were allowed to resume trial and therefore handed down sentences in cases of lesser punishments. The persons were tried for one-year rigorous imprisonment after separate trial and the period of their custody had also been mentioned after the army chief granted remissions as per legal provisions under Section 143 of the Pakistan Army Act, 1952.

The order said the convictions would be subject to the decisions of the appeals seized with the court.

During the hearing, Justice Wahe­­ed had observed that the orders for the release of the persons should be placed before the SC so that it could determine whether the requirements of Article 10-A of the Consti­tution, which ensures fair trial, was adhered to or not while deciding the matter.

Advocate Salman Akram Raja, on behalf of the respondents, had highlighted that the issues raised in ICAs were very high-profile cases and therefore their decisions should satisfy the entire nation and no one should have any doubt about propriety with regard to members of the bench.

The counsel had also contended that any decision by the six-judge bench on the ICAs would have an impact on the 1975 F.B. Ali case that dealt with the trial of civilians by a military court as well as the 2015 Rawal­pindi District Bar Association case pertaining to the trial of terrorists by the military courts under the 21st Am­endment of the Constitution. There­­fore, it was necessary that the appeals be heard by a nine-judge bench.

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2024

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