An anti-terrorism court on Saturday adjourned the trial of LeT’s Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and six other suspects charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks till April 16 after hearing arguments on an application filed by defence lawyers to expedite the proceedings.
The application, filed in February, seeks to counter the prosecution’s efforts to make Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving attacker involved in the 2008 Mumbai strikes, and terror suspect Fahim Ansari part of the trial in Pakistan. Both Kasab and Ansari are currently in custody in India.
Saturday’s proceedings were conducted by Justice Rana Nisar Ahmed of the Rawalpindi-based court, behind closed doors at the heavily-guarded Adiala Jail for security reasons.
Prosecution lawyer Chaudhry Zulfiqar, who appeared for the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), sought an adjournment, saying another prosecutor, Chaudhry Azhar, would present arguments on the matter at the next hearing.
The application filed by the defence lawyers has sought the start of trial proceedings as soon as possible and recording of evidence against the accused.
The application was filed under Section 403 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and Article 13 of the Constitution, which states that no person can be prosecuted or punished for the same offence more than once, defence lawyer Shahbaz Rajput told PTI.
The defence lawyers argued that Kasab had already been convicted and sentenced to death by an Indian court for his role in the Mumbai attacks. The same Indian court had acquitted Ansari, they have told the court. Despite the acquittal, Ansari continues to be in custody in connection with other cases.
The defence lawyers have contended that the prosecution wants to produce witnesses like Kasab and Ansari to whom it has no access and this has resulted in “inordinate and indefinite” delays in the proceedings in Pakistan.
“The prosecution’s efforts to declare Kasab and Ansari as fugitives make no sense as they are not wilfully avoiding the Pakistani court,” Mr. Rajput said.
“We have argued that the case of Kasab and Ansari should be separated from that of the seven accused so that the proceedings can get underway,” he said.
“Even if the prosecution manages to bring Kasab and Ansari to Pakistan, Section 403 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and Article 13 of the Constitution will apply as they have already been tried,” he added.
The trial of the seven Pakistani suspects has been marred by repeated delays over technical matters.
The judge has been changed thrice and only one of more than 160 prosecution witnesses has testified so far.