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CJP Bandial forms nine-member bench over military court trials

CJP Bandial forms nine-member bench over military court trials

ISLAMABAD, JUN 21: /DNA/ – Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial has formed a nine-member larger bench led by himself to take up petitions on Thursday against trial of civilians before military courts under Army Act.

Apart from the chief justice, the bench comprises Justice Qazi Faez Isa, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Yahya Afridi, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and Justice Ayesha Malik.

The development comes a day after former chief justice Jawwad S Khawaja challenged the coalition government’s decision to hold trials of May 9 rioters in military courts, asking if civilian institutions including the Supreme Court can endorse “militarisation of justice”.

“This case is also about power flowing from the barrel of a gun. It is about the power of the army. The army controls businesses and land. Historically, it has exercised power and influence over our political dispensation. Its power and reach extend far beyond its constitutional role. If not a state within a state, it is regarded as an entity distinct from the government and referred to as the ‘establishment’.

 “The question for our civilian institutions including this court is whether the militarization of justice will be endorsed,” said a 39-page constitution petition filed through Khwaja Ahmad Hosain advocate.

The former top judge asked if Pakistanis as a nation want to march backwards in time “with banners flying and drums beating to old tunes”.

 “Or do we see a better tomorrow with public officeholders and institutions operating within constitutionally assigned domains? It is a fundamental question that continues to plague us as a nation. The answer will shape the future,” he added.

He said trials of civilians in military courts do not meet international fair trial standards: the right to a public hearing is not guaranteed, there is no right to a reasoned judgment, there are no details about where trials are conducted, and even the details of the charges are kept secret.

“The decision to try civilians by military courts when the civilian courts are functioning is incompatible with the Constitution and a violation of fundamental rights guaranteed therein.”

The petitioner noted that all four types of court martial—general court martial, district court martial, summary court martial, and field general court martial—are not impartial or independent tribunals.

“The ‘judges’ are all serving officers of the military. They do not have any legal training, security of tenure, or other prerequisites which underpin judicial independence.

“All those involved in the proceedings of the court martial are part of and dependent on the executive branch from appointment until retirement,” he added.

The petitioner said trials in military courts lack transparency. The hearings are held in private and behind closed doors. Section 93 of the Pakistan Army Act 1952 states, “persons subject to this Act who commits any offence against it may be tried and punished for such offence in any place whatsoever.”

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