A few days ago, a judge of an anti-terrorism court was shot dead. The senseless violence not only saw the death of the judge but his immediate family as well. Initial reports suggested that this was a targeted attack, designed specifically to make an attempt at the judge’s life.
It is not the first time that members of the judiciary have been targeted, especially those of which are involved in anti-terrorism proceedings. Perhaps it is an appropriate time for Pakistan to consider installing special faceless, anonymous courts.
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The ultimate objective of the courts is to protect the identities of the judges so that they are not targeted for prosecuting cases of high-profile crimes, like drug trafficking, terrorism, and money laundering.
Faceless courts in other countries
Such courts originated in Italy, where they were used to prosecute members of the Mafia, and in Columbia, they were used to prosecute drug traffickers. In these courts, the identifies of the presiding judges were masked by screens, two-way mirrors, and voice scramblers.
In instituting faceless and anonymous courts, Pakistan would not be the first country to do so. In fact, there is precedence all over the world. Just recently, Brazil installed special faceless courts in seven of its states, including in Rio de Janeiro.
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Instead of a single judge presiding over a case, three judges are nominated to rotate every sixty days in order to prevent a single judge from being directly associated with a prosecution decision.
Peru also experimented with the notion of faceless courts in the early 1990s’. Their anonymous courts had been instituted for more than five years, with the sole purpose of tackling the wave of terrorism that Peru was seeing at that time.
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Tribunals and anonymous courts were made up of judges from diverse specializations, all protected by rigorous anonymity. These courts have since been disbanded by the Ministry of Justice in Peru because they successfully fulfilled the objectives that were earmarked by the authorities.
In fact, according to the Supreme Court of Peru, the anonymous courts of Peru heard over three thousand terrorism trials during their five years of operation, and at the time of their disbandment, there was very little to spare.
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Protecting judges against revenge
In summary, there is sufficient precedence in the world of installed special courts. In Pakistan, suspects of terrorism are tried through the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, an act that has mandated the creation of special courts called Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATCs) to ensure the speedy investigation and prosecution of heinous offenses.
Some of the policies these courts authorize include the denial of bail of terrorist suspects, extended remand of suspects, prevention detention, and the death penalty for certain offences.
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Given the severity of the issues and the risk factors involved in prosecuting terrorist sentences, it is high-time that judges are offered protection and safeguards. Otherwise, they may become the first to be the target of a revenge.
Think back to the 1980s’ when a judge was murdered in less than two hours after he had issued an arrest warrant for the right-hand man of famous drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar.
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Fear of life is an obstacle in administering justice
Admittingly, there are several voices that speak against the practice of special courts and faceless judges. They argue that in the name of security, transparency gets lost. Concerns are raised on judges that may abuse their power to exercise decisions because they are anonymous and no longer feel accountable.
The Human Rights Committee objected that faceless courts compromises on the impartiality of the judicial process. However, would the dispensation of justice not be hampered without such safeguards?
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It is uncertain how the judiciary practicing in ATC would expedite trials of terrorist suspects if they continually fear for their safety and that of their loved ones. Their ability to practice law comes into question because they might have certain apprehensions of convicting terrorists.
How can the judiciary be fair in its decisions, when it is constantly under threat and is fearing for its safety? What is to guarantee that individuals would be inclined towards taking the heavy onus of participating in anti-terrorism courts if there is fear that this decision may risk their own life, along with the lives of their families?
These are questions that need to be asked moving forward. The answer may lie in anonymous courts.
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This author is an Erasmus alumnus and a research associate at a policy-based think-tank in Islamabad. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.