ISLAMABAD, Sept 23: Perhaps for the first time, the ministry of law and justice has officially admitted the dispute over seniority of two senior-most Islamabad High Court judges for which a representation is pending with it for about 20 months.
A recent letter by the secretary law regarding the foreign visit of IHC Chief Justice Iqbal Hameedur Rehman pointed out that during the absence of the IHC CJ the senior-most judge, Justice Riaz Ahmed Khan, could not be appointed as acting chief justice because the matter of his seniority is pending with the law ministry.
The letter said: “This ministry is in receipt of a representation made by Justice Mohammad Anwar Khan Kasi (another senior-most IHC judge) challenging the seniority of Justice Riaz Ahmed Khan. Appointment of Mr Khan as acting CJ is not advisable at this stage.”
Justice Kasi soon after taking oath in January 2011 was notified as the senior-most IHC judge and Justice Khan was the second senior most.The IHC administration at that time relied upon the criteria given in the notification of the law ministry of April 1987 according to which Kasi being a service judge (as he was working as sessions judge) was declared as most senior judge.
The IHC administration on February 2, 2011, revised the seniority and Justice Khan became the most senior judge, because both the judges took the oath of additional judge on the same day and being senior in age Justice Khan was given the seniority.
The law ministry without deciding the representation of Justice Kasi on November 16, 2011, issued another notification regarding the confirmation of both the judges by the Judicial Commission of Pakistan in which Justice Kasi was the most senior judge after Chief Justice Rehman.
Sources in the law ministry told Dawn that the ministry determined the seniority of judges in January and in November 2011 in accordance with a notification dated April 20, 1987.
The notification of 1987 signed by Irshad Hassan Khan, the then secretary law who later became the chief justice of Pakistan, stated, “equitable principal consistently adopted in seniority of high court judges whose appointments are made by a single order, take seniority according to age. If the appointment of two or more service candidates is also simultaneously made with that of candidate from the bar, the service judges will retain their existing seniority in the department regardless of their age which of course would be the determining factor in respect of their seniority vis-à-vis candidates from the bar.”
Rafiq Shah, the spokesman and senior joint secretary for the law ministry, when contacted, said he was unaware of any representation sent to the ministry by any of the judges. “I would check this with the quarters concerned and respond accordingly,” he added.
Mohammad Tariq Channa, the IHC spokesman and deputy registrar (protocol), however, told Dawn that the seniority of IHC judges had been settled in accordance with the rules which are similar to that of the other four high courts.
If a representation is pending with the law ministry, it must be decided in due time and the matter should not be lingered on for an indefinite period, he added.
It may be mentioned that the IHC Chief Justice Rehman on the insistence of the chief justice of Federal Shariat Court had consented to go to Khartoum, Sudan, to attend a “conference of chief justices of Arab countries.”
Justice Rehman had proposed that Justice Riaz Ahmed Khan may be appointed as the acting chief justice in his absence. The IHC CJ, however, could not go to Sudan.