ISLAMABAD, Jan 1: The Supreme Court came to the rescue of its registrar on Tuesday and suspended his summoning by the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly.
The PAC had asked Dr Faqir Hussain to appear before it on Jan 14 for mandatory settlement of the apex court’s expenditures.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan granted the stay after a preliminary hearing of petitions moved by Advocate Rasheed A. Razvi, President of Karachi Bar Association Mehmoodul Hassan and Rawalpindi High Court Bar President Sheikh Ehsan challenging the summoning of the registrar by the PAC.
The court issued a notice to Attorney General Irfan Qadir and observed that it would like to suspend the proceedings, if any, before the committee.
A date for the next hearing will be fixed later.
The PAC is a constitutional body of parliament and all government sector organisations which spend public money are liable to appear before it for settlement of their annual accounts. Under Article 66 (3) of the Constitution, the committee chairman enjoys the same authority as vested in the civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 for enforcing the attendance of any person and compelling the production of documents.
The suspension was immediately described by firebrand rights activist and former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Asma Jehangir as a “self-serving judgment”.
“Not only the order will make the judiciary controversial but it will also not augur well for the future of democracy in the country,” she told Dawn. “The filing of the petitions and the subsequent ruling by the court have made me depressed.”
After refusal by the registrar to appear before the committee, the PAC had on Dec 18 referred the matter back to the National Assembly for a final word. The matter has since been pending before Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza.
The matter had been discussed at several full court meetings held from time to time. At one such meeting the full court had ruled that under the Constitution and the law, the PAC was not competent to scrutinise the accounts of the apex court and, therefore, the registrar was not required to appear before it.
“Truly, this is not the stage to rekindle an issue at a time when there is no urgency or warrant against the registrar,” regretted Tariq Mehmood, another former president of the SCBA.
He said the matter had already been put on the backburner by referring it to the National Assembly whose tenure would end soon. It would have been better if the registrar himself had approached the court by filing a petition against the PAC decision, he added.
Mr Mehmood was of the opinion that the court’s decision would not help enhance its prestige and dignity.
But Advocate Salman Akram Raja said that whatever the court had said was the law and prime facie it appeared that the court had held that under the separation of the judiciary from the executive, parliament could not hold the judiciary answerable.
The petitions were pleaded by one of the pioneers of the famous lawyers’ movement and former SCBA president Advocate Muneer A. Malik. He argued that summoning the registrar to justify the court’s administrative expenditures negated the constitutional scheme. Under Articles 78 and 81 of the Constitution, he said, the committee had no mandate over the federal consolidated funds (FCF) from where the administrative expenditures, including salary of judges of the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court, were charged.
The counsel cited Article 68 of the Constitution and said the provision put a clear bar on discussing the code of conduct of the superior court judges in parliament and the administrative expenditure of the judiciary also came under it.
In his petition, Rasheed Razvi had requested the court to declare that under the scheme of the Constitution, the PAC had no jurisdiction or authority to summon the registrar and that the court should also quash or set aside the notices issued by the committee for the purpose.
He also requested the court to restrain the registrar from implementing the notices issued by the PAC. He argued that revenues or expenditures of the Supreme Court by way of the FCF were always audited by the Auditor General of Pakistan. Besides, the apex court has also put in place a transparent system in association with the auditor general whereby disbursements from the court’s budget were audited prior to such disbursement as well as after the amount was disbursed.