The Supreme Court of Pakistan is set to examine a series of petitions challenging the practice of trying civilians in military courts. A five-member larger bench, presided over by Justice Ijazul Ahsan and comprising Justices Munib Akhtar, Yahya Afridi, Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, and Ayesha Malik, will commence hearings on October 23, 2023. These petitions, which include submissions from various political and civil society figures, call into question the legality and constitutionality of such trials.
The backdrop to this legal challenge stems from events in May when the National Assembly passed a resolution advocating for rioters to be tried under the Army Act. Subsequently, the military initiated proceedings against what it referred to as “102 miscreants.” The decision to subject civilians to military tribunals has ignited a passionate debate, prompting these legal petitions.
This upcoming hearing holds significant importance in Pakistan’s judicial landscape. Among the petitioners are the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), former Prime Minister Imran Khan, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), prominent PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan, former Chief Justice of Pakistan Jawwad S Khawaja, and several civil society representatives, including Junaid Razzaq and Zaman Khan Vardag.
This is not the first time such a matter has come before the Supreme Court. Previously, a six-judge bench convened on August 3 to deliberate the issue. During that time, the Court rejected a plea to constitute a full court for the case, filed by senior counsel Faisal Siddiqi on behalf of civil society activists. However, proceedings were postponed indefinitely, despite pleas from the petitioners to reach a resolution.
Former Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial emphasized the Court’s concern about the military’s involvement in civilian matters, emphasizing the military’s role in defending the nation and its people rather than adjudicating over them. This sentiment underscores the significance of the current legal challenge.
CJP Qazi Faez Isa has recently indicated the Court’s intention to address critical cases, including the trial of civilians by military courts and election-related matters, in the coming weeks. These developments illustrate the Court’s commitment to addressing pressing issues that have far-reaching implications.
It is worth noting that during a hearing on June 27, the federal government assured the Court that, up to that point, formal trials had not yet commenced for the 102 individuals held by military authorities in connection with the May 9 incidents. Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan clarified that all the accused were still under investigation, and no summary trials were planned.
In a separate development, an application was submitted to expedite the military court case, preferably in the third week of October. The applicant, Junaid Razzaq, expressed concern that the trial of civilians in military courts had begun in violation of the Supreme Court’s directives. An expedited hearing was requested to prevent any irreparable loss in the trial of his son, Azam Junaid.
These petitions raise complex legal questions, including the lawfulness, constitutionality, and the vires of certain sections of the Pakistan Army Act 1952. As the Supreme Court prepares to convene on October 23, the outcome of these hearings will significantly impact the legal and political landscape in Pakistan.