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Cases decided on basis of evidence, not emotions: SC

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has held that frightful nature of a crime should not blur the eyes of justice or allow emotions triggered by the horrifying nature of an offence to prejudge the accused.

“Cases are to be decided on the basis of evidence and evidence alone and not on the basis of sentiments and emotions,” Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah observed in a detailed judgement he authored. He said that no matter how heinous the crime, the constitutional guarantee of fair trial under Article 10A could not be taken away from the accused.

The judgement was delivered by a three-judge SC bench comprising Justice Manzoor Ahmad Malik, Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel and Justice Shah on an appeal against the Feb 12, 2016 verdict by the Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi bench in a murder case.

Parvez Akhtar, a retired Wapda employee, his wife Firdous Kausar, daughters Ghazala and Bushra and granddaughter Zarmina were mercilessly murdered in their house in Rawalpindi with their throats slit by a sharp-edged weapon on Jan 21, 2010.

Says constitutional guarantee of fair trial under Article 10A cannot be taken away from accused

Through a short order on Dec 7, 2020, the Supreme Court had converted the jail petition of Naveed Asghar into an appeal and set aside the conviction of the petitioner, Khurram Shehzad and Qadeer Ahmed. The apex court had also ordered releasing the accused forthwith.

Now in the detailed judgement, Justice Shah observed that the gruesome, heinous or brutal nature of the offence might be relevant at the stage of awarding suitable punishment after conviction, but it was totally irrelevant at the stage of appraising or reappraising the evidence available on record to determine guilt of the accused person, as possibility of an innocent person having been wrongly involved in cases of such nature could not be ruled out.

“An accused person is presumed to be innocent till the time he is proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, and this presumption of his innocence continues until the prosecution succeeds in proving the charge against him beyond reasonable doubt on the basis of legally admissible, confidence inspiring, trustworthy and reliable,” the judgement said.

“It is, therefore, duty of the court to assess the probative value (weight) of every piece of evidence available on record in accordance with the settled principles of appreciation of evidence, in a dispassionate, systematic and structured manner without being influenced by the nature of the allegations,” Justice Shah said.

Any tendency to strain or stretch or haphazardly appreciate evidence to reach a desired or popular decision in a case must be scrupulously avoided or else highly deleterious results seriously affecting proper administration of criminal justice would follow. The principles of fair trial have now been guaranteed as a fundamental right under Article 10A of the Constitution and are to be read as an integral part of every sub-constitutional legislative instrument that deals with determination of civil rights and obligations of, or criminal charge against, any person, the judgement said.

Keeping in view the golden rule of giving benefit of doubt to an accused person for safe administration of criminal justice, the verdict said, the court was firmly of the opinion that all the circumstantial evidence presented in the case was completely unreliable and utterly deficient to prove the charge against the petitioners beyond reasonable doubt.

Likewise, it said, the prosecution had miserably failed to complete the chain of circumstances so as to establish conclusively the guilt of the petitioners in a manner that could rule out every hypothesis inconsistent with their innocence.

“The courts below overlooked serious pitfalls and grave infirmities in the prosecution’s evidence by adopting a superficial and cursory approach, not befitting the seriousness of the crime charged in the present case,” the judgement said.

“The zeal to punish an offender even in derogation or violation of the law would blur the distinction between arbitrary decisions and lawful judgments. No doubt, duty of the courts is to administer justice, but this duty is to be performed in accordance with the law and not otherwise,” Justice Shah observed.

“Tolerating acquittal of some guilty whose guilt is not proved under the law is the price which the society is to pay for the protection of their invaluable constitutional right to be treated in accordance with the law. Otherwise, every person will have to bear peril of being dealt with under the personal whims of the persons sitting in executive or judicial offices, which they in their own wisdom and subjective assessment consider good for the society,” the judgement cautioned.

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2021

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