Thursday, June 18, 2015

Yesterday's hearing in Islamabad

The News International has this account of yesterday's lively and broad-ranging en banc proceedings in the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the case of the military courts:
The Supreme Court on Wednesday observed that the accused have no right to defend themselves independently in military courts.

These remarks were made during the hearing of petitions challenging the 18th and 21st constitutional amendments in the Supreme Court. The 17-member full court of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk heard the petitions.

The court was told that only four heads of political parties had decided to establish military courts and then got it approved without any debate in parliament. Justice Jawwad S Khawaja said that it was very serious matter while two out of those heads of parties were not members of the Parliament. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said that was the Parliament a rubber stamp.

Abid S Zubairi, counsel for Sindh High Court Bar Association, while giving his arguments told the Supreme Court that Pakistan Army Amendment Ordinance 2014 was issued before the amendment and under it in-camera court hearing of the case would be held and the names of judges and witnesses would be kept secret. On it, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said that how an accused would challenge the stand of witnesses as he did not know his name. In this connection when Zubairi quoted examples of US and Europe, Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk stopped him and asked him not to quote these countries as we had example of Geo News reporter whose six witnesses were killed and out of these five were policemen.

Zubairi said that parallel judicial system should not be set up on the failure of administration. Justice Sarmad Jalal Usmani said that appeals against decision of court martial are also filed in the Supreme Court and now appeals would be filed with Supreme Court against the decisions of military courts. He said that this law gave protection to military establishment but not to their decisions.

Abid S Zubairi, while giving his arguments said that the procedural aspect of this case was that this amendment was not passed with two-third[s] majority rather votes were taken from the members against their conscience through use of Article 63-A of the Constitution. On it Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk asked Zubairi that did anyone say that his decision was against his conscience. Zubairi said Raza Rabbani had expressed sadness. Justice Mian Saqib said that it was optional and if anybody had courage he would have withdrawn from it.

Abid S Zubairi said that the establishment of military courts was unconstitutional through 21st Amendment and even the Constitution itself did not recognise it constitutional. On it, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said that the Constitution also did not call it unconstitutional.
Judging by this account, it would seem that the justices--at least those quoted here--are fully engaged with the issues. Hats off to The News International for this courtroom coverage. Dawn also had very good coverage of the day's proceedings, available here.

Caveat: what you see (in oral argument) is not always what you get (in the final judgment).

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