Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A word from the cheering section -- and a rejoinder

The Pakistan Observer has this editorial:
At long last, the Supreme Court on Monday endorsed the convictions awarded by military courts, including death sentences, rejecting appeals of sixteen convicts involved in acts of terrorism. The judgement has paved the way for ultimate hanging of jet-black terrorists. 
Saner elements within the legal fraternity have expressed satisfaction over the verdict but supporters of status quo are not happy and find faults with the outcome on frivolous grounds. There should have been no questions about legality of the sentences awarded by the military courts as these have been established through a Constitutional Amendment and an Act of Parliament but there are elements who oppose everything — even punishment to those who mercilessly kill innocent people. The idea of military courts for speedy trial of those involved in terrorism was conceived in the background that virtually no worthwhile sentence was awarded to any of those involved in terrorist incidents during the last several years. The existing legal system has miserably failed to deliver on this account and therefore, the military courts were envisaged for two years and the ordinary system was expected to reform itself during the intervening period. It is, however, regrettable that nothing of the sort has been done despite the fact that the two-year period is about to complete and there would be uncertainty as before to the advantage of terrorists and their facilitators. Similarly, there is also a justified impression that the judiciary is taking too much time in hearing appeals and deciding cases heard by military courts, which amounts to defeating the very objective of speedy trial of such cases. In this case too, the judgement was reserved in June and has been delivered after two months as if there was no emergency whereas the apex court itself has acknowledged that the country is in a state of war. The judiciary should have inward thinking reviewing its own performance on the yardstick of expectations of the people and the country. There is need for expeditious disposal of all appeals and extension of mandate of the military courts if the judicial system fails to offer a guaranteed and time-bound mechanism for disposal of cases of terrorism. (Emphasis added.)
Editor's query: how is "the ordinary system" supposed to "reform itself"? Stand by for an extension of the 21st Amendment -- or legislation making it permanent.

On the other hand, consider this, from The Nation:
While it may be contended that the apex court focused on the appellant’s apparent guilt more than the question of correct procedure; with the Supreme Court’s decisions, fears may be allayed of the correctness of the rulings handed down by the military courts. 
A fact that becomes more pertinent when we consider the convicts were involved in clear cut and heinous terrorist activities such as the Army Public School attack, Parade Line bombing in Rawalpindi, the Bannu jailbreak and attacks on army convoys and installations. 
But this does not – and should not – equate to a thumping endorsement of the establishment of the military courts. 
Granted, the courts in Pakistan have been reluctant to sentence several dangerous criminals whom the judiciary was afraid to tackle. 
It has also been argued that the bravery needed was only demonstrated by the military courts. 
Which begs the question, is that the way our future judicial matters will be arranged – divided between the military and the civilian, both with overlapping jurisdiction and both functioning under different rules of procedure? 
The obvious conclusion is that such a solution is overly complex and ultimately untenable in the long run.
It seems clear that the country is at a crossroads.

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