A landmark verdict was delivered by a five-member Supreme Court (SC) bench on Monday, deeming the military trials of civilians arrested in connection with the May 9 violent protests as null and void. The ruling came just hours after the case had been reserved, and was a defining moment in Pakistan’s legal and constitutional landscape.
Bench Composition and Majority Ruling
Justice Ijazul Ahsan led the bench, which included Justices Munib Akhtar, Yayha Afridi, Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, and Ayesha A. Malik. In a 4-1 majority ruling, the bench decided that the trial of May 9 suspects should be conducted in ordinary courts. Justice Afridi was the sole dissenting voice in the verdict.
In its short order released later in the day, the Supreme Court declared Section 2(1)(d) of the Army Act, which allowed for the military trials of civilians in specific cases, to be in violation of the Constitution and “of no legal effect.” The court also declared Section 59(4) of the Act, which pertained to civil offenses, to be unconstitutional.
Section 2(1)(d) of the Pakistan Army Act allowed for the trial of individuals “not otherwise subject to this Act who are accused of seducing or attempting to seduce any person subject to this Act from his duty or allegiance to the government,” among other provisions.
Section 59(4) permitted the trial of individuals who had been accused under Section 2(1)(d) under the Army Act.
Trials to Be Held in Criminal Courts
The court’s order specified that the trials of the 103 civilians and accused individuals identified by the government, as well as any others involved in the events of May 9, should be conducted in criminal courts. Furthermore, the court asserted that any actions or proceedings under the Army Act, including trials by court-martial, were of “no legal effect.”
Verdict Subject to Appeal
The verdict is not final and can still be appealed before a full court by the state. However, this judgment marks a significant development in the ongoing debate surrounding the role of military courts in trying civilians.
Reactions to the Verdict
Aitzaz Ahsan, one of the petitioners in the case, lauded the verdict, stating that it was “very important” and would strengthen democracy, the Constitution, and the justice system. He emphasized that the verdict underscored the principle that no one was above the law.
Legal experts also weighed in, asserting that as long as civilian courts are functioning, trials of civilians should not be held in military courts. They expressed confidence that the verdict would be upheld in appeal and that it was a positive development for constitutional rights and civilian courts.
The case had been under consideration since June, with a six-judge bench initially hearing the petitions. Following the retirement of the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, the bench was reduced to five judges.
The case centered on the military trials of civilians arrested in connection with the violent protests on May 9, which targeted both civilian and military installations, including the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and other key sites.
The verdict reflects the ongoing debate in Pakistan over the jurisdiction and fairness of military courts in trying civilians, with human rights groups and politicians criticizing such trials for undermining civilian supremacy.
The Supreme Court’s decision is poised to have far-reaching implications for Pakistan’s legal and constitutional landscape, setting an important precedent regarding the role of military courts in trying civilians.