In Islamabad, despite the Sindh Bar Council (SBC) withdrawing its support, two members of the provincial regulatory body remain determined to pursue their petition challenging amendments in the army and official secrets acts.
A statement from the SBC vice chairman submitted to the apex court explained that the initial petition was filed without prior approval from the Full House or any committee, and as a result, they requested the removal of the Sindh Bar Council’s name and the Vice Chairman from the petition. They intend to submit a fresh petition after obtaining approval from the Full House of the Sindh Bar Council in an upcoming meeting.
However, the two SBC members who initiated the petition against the trial of civilians in military courts have refused to withdraw it.
SBC Executive Committee Chairman Naeemuddin Qureshi and member Syed Haider Imam Rizvi, in their personal capacities, filed an appeal against the objections raised by the Supreme Court Registrar’s Office regarding the constitutional petition.
The Supreme Court had raised objections in its September 14 order, but both petitioners, represented by Salahuddin Ahmed Advocate, argued that the SC registrar lacked the jurisdiction to determine the maintainability or entertainability of the petition under Article 184(3). They stated that such judicial determinations can only be made by a bench of at least two judges of the court, citing the case of All Pakistan Newspapers Society vs. Federation of Pakistan.
The petition challenged the trial of civilians under the Pakistan Army Act 1952, the Pakistan Air Force Act 1953, and the Pakistan Navy Ordinance 1961 before military tribunals. It specifically contested the legality of sections 2(d), 59(4), and 94 of the Pakistan Army Act 1952, sections 2(dd), 71(3), and 123 of the Pakistan Air Force Act 1953, and sections 2(3), 78(3), and 107 of the Pakistan Navy Ordinance 1961.
The petition argued that extending military laws and tribunals to individuals not subject to military command and discipline violated the Constitution’s essential features and infringed on citizens’ fundamental rights. It also challenged the recently notified Official Secrets (Amendment) Act 2023 and Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act 2023, citing the lack of Presidential Assent and the creation of new offenses allowing civilians to be tried before military courts under military laws.
The petition emphasized that these issues were of immense public importance related to the independence of the judiciary, the right to life and liberty, and due process in criminal proceedings, guaranteed by the Constitution’s articles 9, 10, and 10-A. It argued that the objection to the petition’s jurisdiction was unfounded and stated that it was not the Registrar’s role to determine the existence of an alternate remedy. The petition concluded that no alternative remedy was available to the petitioners, given that the issues pertained to the entire country and not just a specific province. It also mentioned that some High Courts’ jurisdiction had been revoked due to the invocation of Article 245 of the Constitution by the Federal Government and reiterated that the availability of an alternate remedy should not prevent the exercise of jurisdiction under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.