In Pakistan, the Supreme Court has started showing its strength as soon as Justice Omar Ata Bandial retired from the post of Chief Justice. Recently, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice Ijazul Ahsan has given an unprecedented verdict by declaring the 56-year-old law of trying civilians in military courts as unconstitutional. This decision of the Supreme Court can affect the interests of the power corridors of Pakistan.
The SC division bench also said in its judgment that civilians who are in army custody for attacking military installations will now be tried under ordinary criminal law. This decision has shocked the interim government and army of Pakistan. A report in Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune said that the interim federal government is planning to file an appeal against the decision in a larger bench.
Media reports said the interim government will also request to suspend the court’s decision. A senior federal government official wondered how five judges could declare certain provisions of the Army Act, 1952, as unconstitutional when a larger bench with the same number of members had upheld them in the past.
In the 1970s, a larger bench of five judges in the FB Ali judgment had supported the trial of civilians in military courts. Then it was also argued that only more than five judges could overturn the decision. Under the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act, the appeal has to be decided before a larger bench within 14 days.
Interestingly, four future Chief Justices were also included in the larger bench that declared the 56-year-old law unconstitutional. At present Justice Qazi Faiz Isa is the Chief Justice of Pakistan. Justice Ahsan, who headed the bench that delivered the verdict, will be the next CJP in October next year.
The PML-N has been a staunch critic of Justice Ahsan since the Panamagate case verdict disqualified party supremo Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister. However, Imran Khan’s party PTI has been very comfortable with Justice Ahsan because the case against Nawaz Sharif was filed by Imran Khan. In such a situation, Justice Ahsan’s tenure as CJP will be important for PTI, which is currently facing difficulties on many fronts.