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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Mentally ill and the unfortunate death penalty

The case of Khizar Hayat is a glaring reminder of the alarming deficiencies in the criminal justice system of Pakistan. Why did the Central Jail Lahore request black warrants for Hayat’s execution and the District and Sessions Judge issue them when his execution was pending before the Lahore High Court are questions that need official scrutiny. This is not the first time that a clear lack of coordination between the lower tier of the criminal justice system, jail authorities and lower courts, and the superior judiciary has been witnessed. In October last year, the Supreme Court ordered the acquittal of two brothers, Ghulam Qadir and Ghulam Sarwar, only to find out that they had already been executed. And while the timely order by the Lahore High Court staying the execution of Hayat has prevented him from meeting a possibly similar fate as the two executed brothers, this whole episode casts serious doubt on whether Pakistani courts possess the organisational coherence required to effectively dispense justice.

Hayat is a mentally ill person. He suffers from psychosis and schizophrenia, with the diagnosis unanimously concluded by examination at the Punjab Institute of Mental Health. It is surely confounding that in this day and age it is being debated in Pakistan whether schizophrenia classifies as a mental illness severe enough to save its sufferer from execution. And when the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Imdad Ali, a schizophrenic man awaiting execution, that schizophrenia does not qualify as insanity in the legal sense, a great deal of opprobrium was generated over it, both domestically and internationally, which, needless to say, did not present Pakistan in good terms. Even the Supreme Court realised that there was more to schizophrenia than its earlier ruling and decided to review the case. The Lahore High Court was correct to observe that while the decision of Ali’s case is yet to be delivered by the Supreme Court, it would be appropriate to wait for the decision before proceeding on Hayat’s case. However, this opportunity should be used to open the broader debate on the supposed merits of the death penalty in Pakistan.

In the modern justice system, the death penalty finds no justification, since the object of state sanctioned punishment is reform, not revenge. In any case, even if the philosophical debate on the death penalty is set aside, the error-prone criminal justice system of Pakistan militates against enforcement of the death penalty, the irreversible nature of which does not leave for any means to undo a wrongful verdict. Furthermore, when the rich can simply buy impunity for their wrongdoings, it is only the poor that are left to face the gallows. The problem is made worse by the inherent bias within the police against those belonging to low socioeconomic classes. A state prosecution, far from competent, finds easy prey on the poor due to their lack of access to good legal counsel. And as their fate is decided by the courts, little empathy is spared for them as they are callously executed by jail authorities, evidently, without caring to check if their case is pending before a higher court. In such an unfortunate state of affairs, even the otherwise most ardent supporters of the death penalty would not be able mollify their qualms over it. And it would be a great travesty of justice to let this continue. Perhaps, the government should rethink the rationale behind the imposition of the death penalty.

Courtesy: Daily Times

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