The Supreme Court decision to commute the death sentence awarded to a convict to life imprisonment should be welcomed by all those calling for the reform of the criminal and civil justice systems in Pakistan. In the present case, justice has been done to the convict who remained in fear of death for around 22 years. The court this Monday gave its decision after hearing a petition moved by the convict’s brother. It commuted the death sentence in the light of the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JSO) 2000 and the Presidential Order of December 13, 2001 declaring that since the convict, Muhammad Anwar, was a juvenile at the time of the commission of the offence as defined in Section 7 of the JSO, he is entitled to the benefit of the Presidential Order.
Anwer was below 18 years of age in 1993 when he was arrested on the charge of murder. In 1998, a trial court sentenced him to death. On July 1, 2000, the government introduced the JSO, forbidding execution of convicts under 18 at the time of the offence. On July 25 of the same year, the Lahore High Court rejected the appeal filed by Anwar while invoking the JSO. A presidential notification was issued on December 13, 2001 granting remission to juvenile offenders whose capital punishment had been confirmed before the promulgation of the JSO. In March next year, an ossification test confirmed that Anwar was only 16 at the time of his arrest on the murder charge. In October 2002, the Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the lower courts.
The miscarriage of justice is obvious in Anwar’s case. His death sentence should have been commuted in 2002 when it was confirmed that at the time of the offence he was not 18 years of age. Under the criminal justice system, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution, which is the state. The convict suffered largely due to the failing of the prosecution. Eminent judges have emphasised that laws can be bent to achieve the ends of justice.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2021.