The seven men facing trial in the Mumbai attacks case submitted applications in an anti-terror court in Rawalpindi on Saturday asking to be acquitted on the ground that there was no probability of their conviction.
As a result, the trial, which was expected to begin on Saturday, has now been put off until the applications are disposed of.
Four witnesses who had been summoned for examination by the prosecution were present in the anti-terror court (ATC), which is held inside the Adiala Jail, but the proceedings took a different turn with the filing of the applications for acquittal.
Judge Malik Mohammed Akram Awan asked the prosecution to respond to the applications at the next hearing on December 19.
The seven accused include the Lashkar-e-Taiba operations commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. One application for acquittal was submitted on behalf of Lakhvi and another on behalf of the other six.
The applications contend that the charges against the seven, framed by the court on November 25, are not supported by the evidence provided by the prosecution, and seek acquittal under Section 256-K of the criminal prosecution code. The Cr.PC permits acquittal under this section if the judge rules that there is no probability of conviction of the accused.
The applications have come on the heels of a petition to the Lahore High Court by Lakhvi asking to be acquitted on grounds of insufficient evidence. The High court ruled that the matter would be decided by the ATC before the trial commenced.
The applications took up three specific charges framed by the court against the seven - criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly and abetment - and claimed that there was insufficient evidence to prove these charges.
"If there was a criminal conspiracy, there are no details of this conspiracy. Where and when was it hatched? Time and place are vital here because there has to be a nexus with the circumstances of the crime," said Malik Mohammed Rafiq Khan, one of the defence lawyers.
The charge of unlawful assembly also did not hold water, he said, because it could be applied only if there had been rioting. Similarly, there was no evidence to support abetment, the applications contended.
The applications also hold that the accused cannot be tried on two of the charges against the accused, under the Cyber Crimes Act and the Anti-Terror Act.
Section 4 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) contains a list of offences for which a Pakistani national can be prosecuted in Pakistan even if he is accused of committing them in another country. The section says that the prosecution will take place as if these crimes have been committed in Pakistan.
However, offences under the recently enacted Cyber Crimes law, and Section 7 of the Anti-Terror Act, are not listed under Section 4 of the PPC.
The applications also state that Judge Awan did not apply his mind to the available evidence while framing the charges. Instead, the applications state, he replicated the charges framed by the previous Judge Baqir Ali Rana, jettisoned after the defence lawyers complained of being kept out of the process.