SC resumes hearing of pleas challenging military courts

ISLAMADAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday commenced the hearing of identical pleas challenging the trial of civilians in military courts.

A six-member SC bench headed by by Chief Justice Umar Atta Bandial took up the petitions.

Prior to the start of the hearing, the Attorney General in an informal conversation with media persons explained that no civilian was currently under trial in military courts.

As the hearing commenced, Supreme Court Bar Association President Abid Zuberi took to the rostrum and told the bench that they have also filed a petition on the matter. Chief Justice Bandial inquired about the petition’s status, expressing satisfaction that the Supreme Court Bar has also become a party to the issue.

The chief justice hoped for strong arguments from the parties concerned and mentioned that the numbering of the Supreme Court Bar petition would be determined in due course.

During the proceeding, Uzair Bhandari, the lawyer representing the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) chief, clarified that his arguments would solely focus on the trial of civilians in military trial and not the soldiers.

He referred to the press conference of DG ISPR (Director-General of Inter-Services Public Relations), who stated that trials were ongoing, and stated that this contradicted the Attorney General’s statement.

The Attorney General maintained his position, reaffirming that no civilians had been subjected to military trials thus far. Chief Justice Bandial expressed his trust in the Attorney General’s words.

Lawyer Uzair Bhandari emphasized that even the Parliament could not authorize the trial of civilians without a constitutional amendment. He cited the principle established in the 21st Amendment, which mandates a constitutional amendment for such trials.

Justice Ayesha Malik remarked that cannot civilians be subjected to military trials if an internal matter was at play. Justice Ijazul Ahsan noted that the principles governing internal matters, threats of war, and threat to Pakistan were clearly defined in the 21st Amendment case.

Justice Yahya Afridi opined that the recent press conference by DG ISPR had provided clarity on the matter, suggesting an internal foul play being cobbled together.

The Attorney General highlighted that the ongoing proceedings were being conducted under the Official Secrets Act (2-D/1).

Justice Yahya Afridi called upon the Attorney General to clarify the specific law being employed against the accused. The Attorney General responded that action was being taken against suspects connected to the May incidents under 2-D/2, and those accused who had any affiliation with the army were being tried under 2-D/1.

Chief Justice Bandial remarked on the intriguing absence of the Official Secrets Act, leading to discussions based on speculative information.

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan acknowledged that past instances of civilians being tried in military courts should not be disregarded. However, he noted that each case had distinct facts and reasons.

Lawyer Uzair Bhandari argued that the majority decision of the 21st constitutional amendment imposed the condition that trials in war situations should be conducted by a judge appointed under Article 175-3.

He cited various constitutional articles related to judicial structures and fundamental rights, asserting that while they are separate, they are interconnected.

The petitioner’s lawyer expressed the belief that fundamental rights necessitated the involvement of a judge appointed under Article 175-3 in the trial process. A civilian trial through a court-martial system could negatively impact the judicial system’s credibility, which nobody would willingly permit, he said.

The hearing has been put off shortly to be resumed.

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