Monday, September 14, 2015

Military courts and the defendant's age

Dawn has this interesting report on the impact of a recent Peshawar High Court decision suspending the death sentence of a young civilian who was convicted in a 21st Amendment military court. Seemingly, that ruling led the authorities to revisit a number of other cases that were slated for military court trial where the age of the accused was at issue. Better, it would seem, to resolve the matter up front rather than after trial. A complicating factor is that shunting cases of underage defendants into the civilian courts might lead to slow proceedings and potentially acquittals. (Editor's query: Might this incentivize bad actors to recruit underage accomplices?) Excerpt from Dawn:
Talking about the age verification of the suspects, [a senior official] said that the details of the suspects detained at the internment centres would be shared with Nadra [the National Database and Registration Authority] and an officer not below the rank of section officer would issue a certificate about the age of the accused. 
“If these juveniles are not tried in military courts and are referred to civilian courts, then they may be released, as has happened in the past when civilian courts acquitted hundreds of the suspects who later rejoined their terrorist outfits.” 
He suggested that instead of sending their cases to civilian courts, the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) be amended further to bring juveniles into the ambit of military courts. As it is, he argued, the previous government of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had amended the Anti Terrorism Act (ATA) to bring juveniles under the ambit of the ATA. 
At least two men: Aitzaz Shah, accused of abetting the assassination of Benazir Bhutto; and Hameedullah, the accused in the August 2008 attack on the Pakistan Ordinance Factory (POF) in Wah Cantt, where 70 people were killed and 100 injured, were both juveniles. However, they were tried in anti-terrorism courts. 
A former official of the army’s legal branch, retired Lt-Col Inamur Rahim, said that the PAA was designed to deal with disciplinary matters related to military personnel. 
He said that since there was no concept of juveniles within the army, therefore there was no clause in the PAA that related to juvenile suspects. 
The 21st amendment did not permit court martial of juveniles, he further said. 
According to him, the juvenile suspects should be tried by sessions courts under the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO) 2000. 
Under the JJSO, the trial of juveniles cannot be conducted in ordinary courts and juvenile accused cannot be awarded capital punishment.

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