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SC wants Army Act amended

November 13, 2012

Supreme Court of Pakistan
Supreme Court of Pakistan. — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court asked the federal government on Monday to consider amending the Pakistan Army Act 1952 to remove an inconsistency because of which important documents of the Field General Court Martial (FGCM) are not provided to an accused.

Inability to get copies of judgments, depositions or other record of the FGCM creates difficulties for convicts or accused to furnish grounds for appealing against a conviction.

“The Ministry of Defence may consider amendment to the Pakistan Army Act 1958 similar to the amendments done in the Pakistan Air Force Act Rules 1957 and the Pakistan Navy Act,” the court said.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed had taken up two petitions filed by Col (retd) Mohammad Akram. One seeks an amendment to the army act to provide a convict reasons for the verdict so that he could voice his grievance in the appeal and the other seeks to do away with a provision in the act which requires an accused to be cross-examined on oath and prosecution witnesses to depose their statements on oath.

The defence ministry is required to inform the court on Tuesday about their plans relating to amendments to the law.

The petitioner argued that Article 10-A of the Constitution inserted under the 18th Amendment guaranteed every citizen the right to fair trial and due process and, therefore, the court martial should announce its judgment in the presence of parties.

Col Akram achieved prominence for defending a number of people convicted of involvement in the two abortive attempts on the life of former president Pervez Musharraf, on Dec 14, 2003 and on Dec 25, 2003. The convicts were sentenced by different field general courts martial for their involvement in the attempts.

Mujeebur Rehman, the counsel for the defence ministry, opposed the petitions, but agreed to convey to the ministry the court’s concern over an apparent discrimination in the army act and observation that the law should be on a par with the rules governing other services.

He argued that the requirement of due process under Article 10A of the Constitution was duly met under the army act and that the petitioner was in fact demanding at least half a dozen amendments to the law.

But the chief justice observed that any verdict if not announced by the court martial was against the due process and fair trial.

The chief justice asked the petitioner to establish from where the court should derive jurisdiction to direct the government to amend the law because the powers of the judiciary and that of the executive were different.

The chief justice recalled how the court dealt with the Contempt of Court Act 2012 which was challenged before it. The court simply struck down the law, but never asked the government to resurrect it or bring a new law, he said.