SC grants conditional go ahead on military court verdicts

In Local
March 28, 2024



ISLAMABAD:

The Supreme Court (SC) granted military courts conditional permission on Thursday to announce reserved judgments against civilians facing trial in last year’s May 9 violence cases.

The bench, led by Justice Aminuddin Khan and including Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi, Justice Shahid Waheed, Justice Mussarat Hilali, and Justice Irfan Saadat Khan, heard intra-court appeals against the decision of its five-member bench nullifying an earlier apex court decision declaring military trials of civilians unconstitutional.

At a hearing scheduled earlier this week, the apex court decided to amend its stay order prohibiting the announcement of military court verdicts against individuals tried for attacks on military installations since May 9 of the previous year. The bench also sought for today details regarding individuals who were expected to be acquitted of the charges.

During today’s hearing, the AGP informed the court that there were around 20 individuals who could be released before Eidul Fitr and a concessionary reduction of sentence can be applied to those with lesser sentences and those who can be acquitted.

He added that those serving a one-year sentence can also be released early. The law officer said a total of 105 individuals were in the army’s custody and three phases would need to be completed before their release.

Awan said the first phase would require a reserved decision, the second would entail its validation and the final phase would include the army chief signing off on their release or reduction of sentence.

Later, the AGP sought permission for military courts to pronounce reserved verdicts.

Justice Aminuddin Khan remarked that even if permission is granted to announce the verdicts, it would be subject to the final decision on the appeals.

Read Military trial of civilians gets SC’s nod

Justice Hasan Azhar Rizvi inquired about the names of those to be released. However, the AGP replied that the names cannot be revealed until the military courts pronounce the verdicts.

Following these remarks, the apex court gave military courts the green signal to pronounce the judgments with directions to announce verdicts of only those cases where the accused could be released before Eid.

The AGP assured to grant legal exemptions to those with lesser sentences and that the permission to pronounce judgment shall be subject to the final decision on the appeals.

Furthermore, the SC also accepted the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government’s plea to withdraw the appeals, filed by the caretaker government, challenging the annulment of military trials of civilians.

Besides the court sought details of those sentenced to less than three years.

Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar asked the AGP to try releasing the prisoners three to four days before Eid, which the AGP assured of.

The court adjourned the hearing till the fourth week of April while directing the AGP to submit the implementation report.

Military trials

The SC, on December 23, 2023, conditionally suspended its prior decision to invalidate military trials for 103 civilians till a final judgment on the matter.

The top court stated that the ongoing military trials of the civilians, accused of involvement in attacks on army installations during the unrest following the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan on May 9, 2023, would proceed. The court declared that the final decision of the trial in the military courts would be subject to the final ruling.

The majority 5-1 verdict, reached by a six-member bench, stemmed from a series of intra-court appeals (ICAs), contesting the previous unanimous ruling nullifying the military trials, filed by the caretaker federal government and the provincial governments of Balochistan, Punjab, and K-P. The Sindh government abstained from filing a plea.

Earlier, a five-judge bench of the SC in October 2023 unanimously declared the trial of civilians in military courts as null and void and ordered that the 103 accused in cases relating to the violence on May 9 and 10, 2023 be tried under the ordinary criminal laws.

The court through a 4-1 majority also declared certain clauses of the Army Act as ultra vires the Constitution and of no legal effect. One judge of the bench, reserved his verdict on one para, though siding with the bench on the remaining paras.

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