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Saturday, April 13, 2024

What Does a Life Sentence Mean? Definitely not 25 Years

The CJP is all set to determine the meaning and scope of the life sentence. Apparently, a life sentence is likely to mean life imprisonment, not only for 25 years. Pakistan's judiciary is all set to amend the unfounded rules.

In one more attempt, Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa is determined to conclusively determine what life imprisonment means in Pakistan. He is heading a large bench to deal with the constitutional puzzle. Previously, the CJP constituted a bench to determine the meaning of terrorism and make sure which case falls under terrorism charges.

“Under what basis has it been written under Rule 140 and 198(b) of the Pakistan Prisons Rules that life term for the convict will be for 25 years when the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) does not suggest any specific life span,” observed the chief justice, heading a larger seven-judge bench.

The bench was constituted especially to settle the question of what should be the length of life imprisonment — either 25 years of incarceration or sending the guilty behind bars for life. It is for the legislature to clarify by removing the confusion, the chief justice observed.

A few months ago, the CJP has noted that life sentence means life imprisonment, not 25 years.

People are convinced at large that those having wealth or political influence are unlikely to be punished no matter evidence against them exists or not.

He was heading a three-member bench also comprising Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed in a murder case. The CJP noted that he will further explain the matter at an appropriate time. “After the explanation, convicts will prefer a death sentence instead of life imprisonment,” he said.

Now the issue caught the attention of the Supreme Court when the chief justice, while heading a different bench, took up a case relating to the award of life imprisonment in the case of a man, Haroon Rashid, who was sentenced to life imprisonment 12 times in two different cases, but the question before the court was to determine whether the punishment should run consecutively or concurrently.

Rasheed has been in jail since 1997 and has served a 22-year sentence. According to Rashid’s lawyer Zulfikar Maluka, the court had allowed different sentences to be served concurrently. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court postponed further proceedings when the counsel expressed the desire to withdraw the petition since he still has a window of opportunity in moving a review petition in one of the two cases, though the review petition in another stand concluded.

Senior counsel Ahsan Bhoon and Azam Nazeer Tarar also pleaded before the apex court that they had been approached by different bar associations and therefore wanted to represent the point of view of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) before the SC in determining the issue.

The PBC was not under notice but wanted to join current proceedings since people are “crying in jails as the quality of food served in prisons is very low and even medicines are not available”, Mr. Tarar said.

In Pakistan, due to the inefficiency of the criminal justice system, the crime rate is on the rise. People are convinced at large that those having wealth or political influence are unlikely to be punished no matter evidence against them exists or not. Such collective distrust in the system leads to several examples of mob justice or an appeal to the system as envisioned by the extremists which, in principle, adheres to the idea of speedy justice.

Read more: People falsely accuse opponents even on death bed, CJP Khosa

There is also some misunderstanding regarding the purpose of any punishment in a given society. Babar Sattar, senior lawyer, and political commentator believes that “the primary objects of a punishment system are retribution, deterrence, and reform. Retribution is based on the eye-for-eye logic. If you wrong a fellow citizen, the state on behalf of the one wronged will settle the score. Deterrence aims at societal control. If everyone is convinced of the certainty of punishment for wrongdoing, those with a delinquent gene will be dissuaded. The logic of reform is supported by a belief in the basic goodness of humans: the state must try to reintegrate into society even those who go wayward”.

Moreover, he further explains that “all these objects are rooted in the notion of human agency and rational choice: every person is free to choose his actions and those whose actions harm others ought to bear the consequences”.