The government on Saturday tabled two bills in the lower house of parliament that seek to amend the Constitution and the Pakistan Army Act 1952 to give a constitutional cover to special courts to be set up to try terror suspects.
The 21st Amendment Bill 2015 and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2015 were tabled in the National Assembly by Minister for Law, Justice and Human Rights Senator Pervaiz Rashid in the presence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a session that lasted barely 10 minutes. Interestingly, Rashid had been convicted by a military court around 45 years ago for delivering a controversial speech.
Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq had to adjourn the house till Monday evening as 228 lawmakers, required for a constitutional amendment, were not present. “It is expected that the bills will be approved next week by the two houses of parliament,” an official of the National Assembly Secretariat said.
The 21st Amendment Bill suggests amendments in Article 175 of the Constitution, which deals with judicial affairs as well as the first schedule of the Constitution, which deals with fundamental rights.
“Whereas extraordinary situation and circumstances exist, which demand special measures for speedy trial of certain offences relating to terrorism, waging of war or insurrection against Pakistan and for prevention of acts threatening the security of Pakistan by the terrorist groups using the name of religion or a sect and also by the members of armed groups, wings and militias,” reads the 21 amendment bill.
The Pakistan Army Act (Amendment) Bill 2015 would remain in force for two years and stands repealed on the expiration of the said period unless extended by the Parliament.
After the approval of the bills, there will be no independent forum (superior courts) available to the terror suspects to appeal against military court’s decision, as the suspects of terrorism will not be able to claim fundamental rights unlike normal judicial course. In the first schedule of the Constitution, acts of all three armed forces and the Protection of Pakistan Act 2014 will also be inserted.
These military courts – with prior permission of the federal government – will also be able to try any person – who is claimed or is known to belong to any terrorist group or organisation using the name of religion or sect and who commits an offence. The federal government can also transfer pending cases to these military courts.
According to an NA official, the government has agreed to remove the word ‘sect’ from the new bills after JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman raised objection. He said by suspending the rules to refer the bills to the relevant house committee, the process has already been summarised and there were little chances of debate on these bills during Monday’s proceedings.
Explaining the proposed amendments, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Fazal Haq Abbasi said that in view of national consensus, the legal fraternity would devise a strategy after going through the proposed amendments.
“We have to see to what extent fundamental rights are altered,” he said, adding that during the Saturday’s meeting of the SCBA it was decided to hold a joint meeting with the Pakistan Bar Council (PBA) to adopt a future line of action.
Another SCBA’s office-bearer said it was difficult for the legal fraternity to accept the proposed amendments as the offences were not covered in the Army Act and amending the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) was also necessary for the purpose.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2015.
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