ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court acquitted another death row convict on Monday after the prosecution failed to present iron-clad evidence against him. The convict has already spent a decade in jail.
The three-member special bench, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, heard the appeal filed on behalf of Muhammad Aamir against his death sentence and another appeal against the acquittal of Zubair Hussain.
Muhammad Aamir was accused of killing a man named Muhammad Aslam and injuring Safina Bibi in 2006 in Jhelum along with Haji Muzaffar, Muhamamd Zubair Hussain, Muhamamd Younas and Muhammad Arshad.
The trial court handed down the death senetence to Amir and Zubair but acquitted three accused Haji Muhammad Muzaffar, Haji Muhammad Younis and Muhammad Arshad.
Later, both Zubair Hussain and Muhammad Aamir filed appeals in the Lahore High Court (LHC) against the trial court’s verdict. The LHC acquitted Zubair Hussain but upheld Muhammad Aamir’s death sentence.
Muhammad Aamir filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, challenging the LHC decision.
During the hearing, the bench wondered how the trial court had handed down death sentences to two persons after the prosecution presented a mass of “unreliable” evidence against the four other co-accused.
The court noted that the prosecution failed to establish its case against the accused.
It also observed that although four other accused in the matter had been acquitted, the other man was on death row on the statement of the same witness.
Meanwhile, members of the legal fraternity ascribed the high acquittal rate to the application of the principle of ‘Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus’ (False in one thing, false in everything).
This situation also sparked a debate in legal circles, lawyers and others linked with the profession wondered over the reasons regarding the acquittal of death row prisoners by the Supreme Court’s three-judge special bench, especially over the past couple of months.
Punjab Deputy Prosecutor-General Muhammad Abdul Wadood said that since the country’s independence, courts had been applying the principle of ‘sifting chaff out of grain’ in criminal cases.
According to this principle, the evidence of a witness cannot be ruled out of consideration against all accused, just because one or more accused was found innocent and was acquitted. In such situations, the court followed this rule.
Abdul Wadood, however, maintained that currently the top court’s special bench was applying the principle that if lower courts acquitted some accused on the basis of false evidence or fake statements, the same could not be used to convict anyone else.
Legal experts believed that there were profound repercussions on criminal justice system because of the application of the principle of ‘Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus’.
They say it will discourage complainants to nominate innocent people in murder cases. They also said the numbers of prisoners in jails would also decrease.
Sources said that currently, 830 criminal appeals were pending while around 30,000 civil cases were sub judice in the apex court. They say that currently, the special bench is hearing appeals filed in 2011. The top court will decide all appeals by May 2017.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2016.