Supreme Court questions scope of appeals in military trials – Pakistan

Supreme Court questions scope of appeals in military trials – Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: As the Supreme Court on Monday considered appeals against a five-member bench’s decision declaring military trials of civilians illegal, the scope of intra-court appeals came under scrutiny, with a judge questioning whether ICAs should be treated as appeals or mere internal reviews of the earlier decision.

Justice Shahid Waheed, a member of the seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court that had heard a batch of 50 ICAs against the October 23, 2023 verdict that quashed the trial of civilians before military courts for their alleged involvement in the May 9 violence, referred to Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah’s judgment in the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act, 2023 and stressed that the apex court should first sort out its powers while hearing the ICAs.

The seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court was headed by Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan.

Referring to Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan, Justice Waheed stressed the need to determine the scope of ICAs, saying that being a sensitive issue, “we should first decide whether to treat these appeals as reviews of earlier judgments or appeals, especially when a quarter of the Supreme Court has pronounced on the October 23, 2023 verdict by considering trials of civilians by military courts as illegal.”

The judge also pointed out the absence of any guideline or rule on how to deal with such appeals after the Supreme Court judgment in the Practice and Procedure Act.

Supreme Court Allows Six New Requests Regarding Civilian Trials in Military Tribunals

In his judgment, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah held that an ICA was not an appeal in the strict sense, but an internal mechanism of the court to review its own decisions.

When Justice Waheed asked him whether any approval was granted by the cabinet before filing the ICAs, AGP Awan said no such approval was required for filing such cases.

In this regard, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar while pointing fingers at the AGP said whether he wanted a rule that cabinet approval was required every time before filing such appeals by the federal government.

Six other requests authorized

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, in a five-to-two majority decision, granted six applications to intervene in the ICA against the October 23, 2023 judgment.

The applications were filed by Senior Advocate Hamid Khan on behalf of the Lahore Bar Association, Lahore High Court Bar Association, Lahore District Bar Association etc.

The senior counsel argued that the bar associations believe that the October 23 judgment has extended the fundamental rights of citizens and hence they should support the impugned judgment.

Faisal Siddqiui, a senior lawyer from Karachi, withdrew his request for live streaming of the current appeals on condition that the Supreme Court decides to hold a daily hearing.

Sardar Latif Khosa, Salman Akram Raja and lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, representing the families of the detainees, immediately expressed concern that for the past five weeks, the 85 detainees have not been able to meet their families. In some cases, when meetings were allowed, the detainees were chained, hooded and deprived of home-cooked food.

Salman Akram Raja said there was no justification for keeping these prisoners in military custody. Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail said if this was true, it was unfortunate as humanity comes first.

Attorney General Awan said the information surprised him and assured the court that he would look into the matter and update the court on the latest situation. “I understand that family meetings are held every Thursday,” the attorney general said.

The court ordered the AGP to provide the schedule of weekly meetings between awaiting trial prisoners and their family members.

Analyst Hafeezullah Niazi regretted that his son Hasan Niazi has been in physical detention for the past 11 months, and since he does not enjoy any prisoner rights, the trial against him is still ongoing and no bail application could be entertained by the courts.

Justice Mandokhail observed that a number of petitions were preventing the speedy disposal of the appeals. Referring to senior advocate Shumail Butt, who appeared for Shuhada Forum Balochistan, he asked why the organisation had never challenged the burning of the Ziarat residence where the Quaid-i-Azam had stayed during his last days.

In its petition, Shuhada Forum argued that the trial of civilians under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952 (PAA) was in violation of the Constitution as well as Section 5 of the Supreme Court Practice and Procedure Act. The lawyer said he would provide the organisation’s objectives before the court.

The court then adjourned further proceedings until July 11.

Published in Dawn, July 9, 2024