A Pakistani anti-terrorism court conducting the trial of suspects in the Mumbai attacks case on Saturday directed defence lawyers to complete all formalities to be included in a judicial panel that will visit India to interview key officials and witnesses.
Responding to concerns expressed by defence lawyers about possible security threats in India and the cost of a visit to the neighbouring country, anti-terrorism court judge Shahid Rafique ordered the lawyers to submit their passports and furnish other details so that they could be part of the commission.
"The judge ordered them to submit the names of lawyers (who would be part of the commission) along with passports and other documents in order to complete arrangements for the commission's departure to India," prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar said.
During proceedings held at Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi for security reasons, the judge further ordered the federal government to issue a formal notification about the constitution of the judicial commission before the next hearing scheduled for December 10.
A copy of the notification should also be sent to India as soon as possible, the judge said.
After the defence lawyers contended that the accused could not afford the expenses for the visit to India, the judge said the Pakistan government would bear all the expenses to be incurred on the commission's trip to the neighbouring country.
"So the accused should send their lawyers to India," Judge Rafique was quoted as saying by Zulfiqar.
Earlier, the defence lawyers submitted an application in which they expressed their inability to be part of the commission, Khwaja Sultan, the lawyer for Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, told PTI.
The defence lawyers contended that the accused had hired them to fight the case in Pakistan and not in India.
"Besides the issue of fees, the accused feel the lawyers would have security concerns in India. When even (lone surviving attacker) Ajmal Kasab's lawyer was killed, how would they be safe?" Sultan claimed.
Sultan's remarks were an apparent reference to the killing of Shahid Azmi, the counsel for Fahim Ansari, Kasab’s co-accused.
Azmi was gunned down by unidentified men in February last year.
In a separate development, the defence lawyers today challenged the admissibility of some CDs submitted as evidence by the prosecution at the last hearing of the case.
"We challenged the evidence on the ground that the officials who prepared the CDs are not witnesses in the case and thus the CDs are not admissible," Sultan said.
Judge Rafique adjourned the case till December 10 with a direction to the prosecution to argue the admissibility of the CDs on that date.
At the last hearing, the prosecution had informed the court that India had expressed its willingness to facilitate the visit of the Pakistani commission, which will interview key officials, including a magistrate who recorded Kasab’s confession, police officials who investigated the Mumbai attacks and doctors who conducted the autopsies of attackers and victims.