Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Military courts amendment upheld in Pakistan

By lopsided votes, the Supreme Court of Pakistan today rejected the numerous challenges to both the 18th and 21st Amendments to the Constitution. The 21st Amendment authorized, for two years, the creation of military courts to try civilians for certain terrorism offenses. The 18th Amendment concerned the selection of judges. According to this report in The Express Tribune:
The apex court, in an 11-6 decision, dismissed a slew of petitions against the 21st constitutional amendment wherein military courts have been established to try militants. 
A 17-judge full bench also dismissed petitions against the incumbent procedure of appointment of judges in a wide 14-3 decision. 
While announcing the judgement, the CJ [Nasirul Mulk] said, “In view of the respective opinions recorded above, by a majority of 13 to 4 these Constitution petitions are held to be maintainable.” 
“However, by a majority of 14 to 3 the Constitution petitions challenging the Constitution (18th Amendment) Act (Act X of 2010) are dismissed, while by majority of 11 to 6 the Constitution petitions challenging the Constitution (21st Amendment) Act (Act 1 of 2015) and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act (Act II of 2015) are dismissed,” he added.
The opinions have not yet been posted on the court's website. Reuters reports here that they will be issued at a later date. As a result, legal commentary on the ruling, such as that reported here, has not provided specifics as to the reasoning of either the majority or the dissenters. This article reports:
In a 25-page additional note written in Urdu, Justice Jawad S. Khawaja said he agrees with Justice Qazi Faiz Esa that it is essential to strike down the 21st amendment.
Click here for Dawn's backgrounder, written before the decisions were announced.

Less than 18 months remains of the two years authorized by the 21st Amendment. So far as Global Military Justice Reform is aware, no concrete steps have been taken to improve the effectiveness of Pakistan's civilian courts or their ability to administer justice in anything remotely approaching a timely fashion. A major question is whether that will change in the next year and a half. If not (and intuitively it seems highly unlikely that real change could be effected in such a brief period), look for an extension or, worse yet, repeal of the two-year sunset provision of the 21st Amendment.

Half a dozen people have already been sentenced to death by the 21st Amendment courts. Those sentences have been approved by the Chief of Army Staff but the Supreme Court stayed any executions in April. Presumably the stay has been or will soon be vacated and executions will begin.

Update: the opinions are now on the court's website. A link appears in the next post.

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