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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Pakistan’s parliament votes to reinstate secret military courts

Karachi: Pakistan’s parliament on Tuesday amended the constitution to reinstate secret military courts that try civilians charged with terrorism offences, something activists have warned will lead to human rights abuses.

The government and Pakistan’s powerful military say the country’s civilian judicial infrastructure is ill-equipped to deal with such cases, partly as judges fear becoming victims of revenge attacks by militants.

Military courts were first set up by the parliament in early 2015 in response to an attack by Pakistani Taliban fighters on a military-run school that killed 134 children.

Under the system, defendants are not allowed to hire their own lawyers, instead being assigned one by the military. There is no access for the media and the venue and timing of the trials is withheld until a verdict is announced by the military.

The courts have delivered 275 convictions, including 161 death sentences, and carried out 17 executions. These courts do not allow the right to appeal and judges are not required to have law degrees or provide reasons for their verdicts.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office said in January that it would seek to keep them in place after the two-year legal mandate expired.

However, Sharif’s ruling PML-N was not able to extend the courts’ tenure on its own as it does not have the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution, leading to two months of consensus building between the major parties.

“The bill has been adopted today, our suggestions including the parliamentary oversight of the military courts have been included in the bill,” Senator Saeed Gani, from the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, told journalists.

Judicial experts have argued that the courts do not address the problem, with a criminal justice system badly in need of reform, and instead act as a stop-gap measure.

“The worrying thing is the conviction rate and the lack of representation for people being tried. It fails every single test of natural justice,” Furkan Ali, a lawyer, said.

Source: Gulf News, Agencies, March 22, 2017

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