SC to hear ZAB case reopening reference on 13th


ISLAMABAD – Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on Monday fixed April 13 the date to start hearing the presidential reference seeking the reopening of the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto “judicial murder” case.
The reference was filed in the Supreme Court by President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday under its advisory jurisdiction seeking an opinion on revisiting the death sentence awarded to the former prime minister. The Supreme Court, under its constitutional provisions, has the authority to consider the question referred to it by the president and then give its opinion to the president.
A seven-member SC bench had upheld by four a Lahore High Court verdict awarding death sentence to Bhutto in March 1979. “We have requested the SC to re-examine the Bhutto case because the judgement handed down by the courts was controversial. The benefit of doubt which should have gone to the advantage of the accused during the trial in criminal cases went in favour of the prosecution,” lawyer Arif Chaudhry had told reporters outside the Supreme Court.
The media was not given a copy of the reference because the government wanted to keep it secret. However, according to a source, the 18-page reference had put a question mark on the independence of the judiciary when it contended that the judiciary was under pressure of the then military government when it had convicted the former prime minister.
To substantiate the argument, the reference has also quoted a television interview of former chief justice Dr Nasim Hasan Shah, who was a member of the bench which had upheld the death penalty. Shah had admitted that there was not enough evidence to put Bhutto on a death row and that he should have voted against the hanging and felt bad for not doing so.
Meanwhile, senior lawyers including Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, Khalid Ranjha, Akram Sheikh and Ikram Chaudhry were of the view that acceptance of the reference would have serious repercussions as it might open floodgates for similar questions. They said the presidential references were always filed to remove any confusion about a legal controversy.
The acceptance of the reference, they feared, would mean that every government in case of an adverse decision against it would institute a review petition and on its rejection would be moving a similar reference requesting the court to clarify its position on certain issues.