It’s the unfortunate vicious paradox surrounding the blasphemy law- by leaving conviction of blasphemy to the courts; the government has only resulted in huge possibilities of miscarriage of justice. The probability that the case will operate fairly in a court of law, on judges without pressure or fear of life, is absolutely minimal. A trial under such a court will often deprive the accused of legal remedies or defences, outlined in the General Exceptions clause in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which are the fundamental rights for every citizen.

Thus, it is commendable that the Supreme Court (SC), asked the superintendent of the Toba Tek Singh district jail to send the personal history of a convict facing the death sentence on a charge of blasphemy. A two-judge bench observed that the court should consider the mental health of an accused before awarding capital punishment. A culprit can plead the defence of “insanity” under S.84 of the PPC, which claims that nothing is an offense by someone of unsound mind.

As evidenced by the Ramsha Masih case, courts often forgo this defence due to intense pressure and inflammatory arguments of lawyers. It is heartening then that court looked beyond the counsel’s irrelevant stance that the accused was literate and thus, mentally fit. The court’s measured stance, deference to law and composure in the face of unhinged arguments by the prosecutor is commendable and needs to be replicated by more courts.

Most poignant perhaps was the court’s ending remarks on the blasphemy law, where the court observed that the nature of the law was such that no one of sound mind would dare to commit such offences if the law was implemented in true letter. This reflects the misuse of the law, by implicating unsound citizens to achieve a material means. Even if the decision does not exonerate the accused, the SC should use this opportunity to lay down binding precedent on how blasphemy cases are to be tried and treated.