ISLAMABAD - A larger bench of the Supreme Court will decide the legal questions pertaining to the trial of serving military officers over their alleged role in enforced disappearances.

Justice Jawwad S Khawaja, heading a three-judge bench, stated this while hearing the application of Chairman Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) regarding the issue of unidentified dead bodies.

He said the chief justice had passed the order that larger bench will be constituted in the last week of this month to decide legal questions pertaining to the trial of serving military officers over their alleged role in enforced disappearances, adding the bench has also referred all the missing persons matters to the larger bench. On May 15, 2013 the same bench had recommended that a larger bench should hear all the missing persons’ cases wherein military officers were allegedly involved.

The bench had made this recommendation to ensure uniform consideration over the questions relating to the trial. The court had framed questions pertaining to the trial of the officers in missing persons’ cases.

The questions are, when a person is accused of commission of an offence under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and that person is serving in the Pakistan Army, is it the ordinary criminal (forums) courts, set up under the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C), which are to try him, or is it for the forums under the Pakistan Army Act to try such an accused?

Second, is it the ordinary criminal courts (in the present case, the courts in Malakand) that are obliged to accede to the request made by the army authorities, or is it within the discretion of the ordinary courts to determine whether or not to allow the request of army authorities to transfer the case to them? Third, if it is for the ordinary forums to exercise discretion in the matter of a request received from the army authorities, what is the basis on which such a request should be considered, and then allowed or declined?

In last year, the court had issued notices to Attorney General for Pakistan and all advocate generals in this case but the matter has not been listed for last many months. Earlier, missing persons cases were being heard in different bench. Later on, the bench had recommended the CJ to form larger bench for devising uniform policy on this issue.

Meanwhile, according to a report submitted by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIED) before the Supreme Court in February 1, 409 of those traced belong to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), 254 to Punjab, 199 to Sindh, 50 to Balochistan and 30 to Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

The report reveals that 1,273 cases of enforced disappearance are still pending. These include 632 cases from K-P, 198 from Punjab, 186 from Sindh, 122 from Balochistan, 43 from Fata and 11 from Azad Jammu Kashmir, 30 from Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT). Some 982 missing persons have been located in the last four years while 1,273 cases of enforced disappearance are still pending with the court.

According to the data, the number of missing persons is increasing as 1,265 cases were pending as of December 31, 2014 but instead of decreasing this number has increased to 1,273 with the addition of eight more cases.

The report says 2,275 cases of missing persons were instituted when the commission started its work in March, 2011. However, it disposed of 1,140 cases.