KARACHI: Thanks to a shortage of judges and lack of security, anti-terrorism courts in Karachi have been unable to decide cases on time, so much so that a dozen or so of the cases have been awaiting verdicts for about eight years, it emerged on Monday.
The special anti-terrorism courts were established under the Anti Terrorism Act, 1997 for speedy trial of cases pertaining to terrorism and kidnapping for ransom, but a big backlog of cases is one of the main reasons behind the inordinate delay in their disposal.
Three anti-terrorism courts are housed in the metropolis. Two of them have serving district and sessions judges at their helm and the third is headed by a retired district and sessions judge.
According to Section 19 (7) of the ATA, the court shall, on taking cognizance of a case, proceed with the trial on a day-to-day basis and shall decide it within seven days, failing which an application may be made to the administrative judge of the high court concerned for appropriate directions for an expeditious disposal of the case.
Similarly, it is mentioned in Section 13 (2) of the ATA that one case at a time shall be assigned to a court. To save time, if for some reason a given case cannot proceed, more than one case may be assigned to it.
However, 106 cases are pending trial before ATC-I, 133 before ATCII and 104 cases before ATC-III, leaving the courts staff with no option but to set around 10 cases for hearing daily.
Court sources said that due to the huge backlog of cases, besides a reasonable number of cases pending trial for around eight years, dozens of three to four-year old cases are awaiting decisions in the city`s ATCs.
At least six cases of five to eight years old are awaiting disposal before ATC-I. They include the 2005 PIDC building blast in which Abdul Hameed Bugti is standing trial. Qasim Toori, an alleged member of the proscribed Jandullah, has been charged with masterminding an attack on a convoy of the then crops commander of Karachi in 2004 in Clifton, and a murder case (FIR 141/03) against Shahnawaz registered at the Chakiwara police station in 2003.
Besides, the trial of the 2006 Nishtar Park bombing case, two cases (FIRs 44/04 & 52/04) regis-tered under Section 302 and other sections of the Pakistan Penal Code and ¾ of the Explosive Substance Act against alleged activists of Jandullah, Atta-urRehman and others, is also pending before ATC-L A robbery-cum-murder case of 2003 (FIR 83/03) registered at the Model Colony police station and the trial of the murder of Ehreshamuddin Haider (the elder brother of former Sindh governor and federal minister retired LtGen Moinuddin Haider) in 2001 in Solider Bazaar against Attaullah and others of the proscribed Lashkar-i-Jhangvi are pending before ATC-IL Five cases of 2002 pertaining to sectarian killings and illicit weapons against Mohammad Ajmal, better known as AkramLahori, the alleged chief of the LJ, and his aides Mohammad Attaullah alias Qasim and Mohammad Azam alias Sharif are pending before ATC-IIL Another case (FIR 13/2003) lodged under Section 302 of the PPC at Model Colony in 2003 against Mudassir and others is also waiting to meet the ends of justice before the same court.Legal experts said they believed that pending trial of a large number of cases for many years before the anti-terrorism courts had killed the objective behind the establishment of such courts.
They urged the government to establish at least seven more courts under the ATA in the city to clear the backlog and ensure dispensation of speedy justice.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry at a meting held at the Supreme Court registry here in December 2010 had expressed his dissatisfaction over the poor functioning of ATCs in Sindh and observed that Sindh had the biggest backlog of cases because the pendency was three times higher than disposal.
About the appointment of retired judges and lawyers in 11 anti-terrorism courts in the provincial, the chief justice had also questioned the method of their appointments.
Subsequently, the government did not extend the tenure of the then judges of ATCs which had expired in the early part of 2011 and appointed new judges in June and September 2011, most of whom were severing judicial officers. But this move had not made any major improvement and the chief justice has recently again expressed displeasure over the situation of the ATCs.
Another important issue related to the ATCs was the security of judges, prosecutors and witnesses, which was also affecting its performance.
Section 21 of the ATA said that for the protection of the judges, accused, witnesses, prosecutors and defence counsel and anyone concerned with court proceedings, the government may adopt such other measures as may be appropriate or may be prescribed and the armed forces shall also provide comprehensive protection to judges and others.