Trials: On Death Row in Pakistan by Isabel Buchanan - review by Nadira Naipaul

Nadira Naipaul

Shadow of the Gallows

Trials: On Death Row in Pakistan


Jonathan Cape 264pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Trials: On Death Row in Pakistan has much to tell us that is new, even if one is familiar with Pakistan and its legal morass. Isabel Buchanan poses a rhetorical question elegantly through her observations, experiences and stories: what good is judicial reform if there is no judicial integrity?

After graduation Buchanan started work as a volunteer in London before moving to Lahore in 2011 to work at a newly established legal firm belonging to Sarah Belal, a feisty young Oxford graduate. This kitchen-table practice specialised in lost causes: cases involving prisoners on death row who seemingly had no chance of reprieve, whether guilty or innocent. Buchanan weaves with clarity a compelling but heart-wrenching story of just how callously the Pakistani state allows judicial murders to take place as long as legal procedures are followed to the letter, from the lowly police station where the first information report is filed to the sessions (lower courts), the high court and even the supreme court. 

Buchanan had no appreciation of Islamic law before she went to Pakistan. She had studied in Glasgow. It had a large Muslim population, but her Pakistani neighbours were no different from her white ones. They all had common aspirations. They were law-abiding and desired a better future through education. They

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