How to use this manual: A step-by-step guide to capital defense

This manual covers the representation of individuals facing a possible sentence of death, from the moment of their arrest and detention in police custody, to the necessary investigation that you must undertake on bars to death sentence and execution, and mitigating factors, through to the trial and finally appeal proceedings (Note that this manual does no touch upon clemency proceedings explicitly, but the page on Defense-Led Investigation’s consideration of mitigation factors is useful in this regard).

The manual will enable you to provide the most effective representation possible to avoid a sentence of death. Through dedicated pages on each stage, the manual discusses not only domestic law established by the Supreme Court, but also international best standards.

Chapter 1: Effective Representation

Effective Representation’ discusses your client’s right to a fair trial and your ensuing duties and responsibilities as their legal counsel. The principles discussed on this page are fundamental to providing effective legal representation and lay the foundation for the entire manual.

Chapter 2: Defence-Led Investigation

Defence-Led Investigation’ addresses the crucial role of investigation in capital defense cases and the factors which may prevent your client from being sentenced to death or executed. The page discusses typical forms of mitigating evidence that the Supreme Court of Pakistan considers relevant to capital sentencing and provides guidance on how lawyers may investigate such factors and produce evidence of them during trial and appeal proceedings for their client’s best interests.

Chapter 3: Trial

Trial’ focuses on proceedings at the trial stage of your client’s case. Drawing on the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, this page outlines the arguments you can incorporate into your defense strategy at trial in a capital case.

Chapter 4: Appeals

Appeals’ looked at the appellate stage of your client’s case and provides guidance on challenging a death sentence handed down by a trial court.

This manual should not be viewed as legal advice, but legal information, which should not be applied without the advice or involvement of a lawyer.

About the Manual

This is a practical guide based on the findings of The Pakistan Capital Punishment Study,1 constitutional rights of the accused and international human rights principles. The Pakistan Capital Punishment Study is a study that was published by the Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR) and Reprieve in 2019. The study undertook a qualitative and quantitative analysis of all published capital jurisprudence from the Supreme Court of Pakistan between 2010 and 2018. FFR and Reprieve found that the rate at which the Supreme Court upholds death sentences has fallen dramatically – on average, the overturn rate is 78%. Analysing the cases where the Supreme Court acquitted an accused, commuted a death sentence to life imprisonment, or ordered a review of a death sentence, a number of evidential failings at the lower court level are apparent. Accordingly, this manual seeks to provide lawyers with jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and strategic guidance in their representation of individuals facing the death penalty in addressing evidential failings that lead to miscarriages of justice at the lower court level.

Why is this important?

Pakistan retains the death penalty for at least 31 different offences. Most of these offences do not meet the “the most serious crimes2 threshold as required by international law and upheld by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Accused persons charged with offences punishable by death are often the most vulnerable in the criminal justice system and may be subject to grave human rights violations from the moment that they are arrested. Therefore, in all capital cases, defense lawyers play a pivotal role in protecting their client’s rights and are often a defendant’s only recourse to a fair trial and due process. Defence lawyers play a pivotal role in the administration of justice and therefore this manual aims to arm them with a guide to serve the best interests of their clients by ensuring that the criminal proceedings against them strictly adhere to standards set by Pakistan’s Supreme Court.