ISLAMABAD: Justice Umar Ata Bandial of the Supreme Court on Wednesday overruled the return by the registrar office of a petition moved to seek an order for establishment of benches of the Lahore High Court (LHC) in major cities of Punjab.
On Jan 2, the registrar office had not entertained the petition on the ground that the petitioner had not approach any other appropriate forum available to him under the law and also failed to justify directly approaching the apex court.
The petition was moved by Raheel Kamran Sheikh, a senior member of the Pakistan Bar Council, to seek establishment of LHC benches in cities like Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sargodha and Sahiwal.
On Wednesday, Justice Bandial took up the appeal against the decision of the registrar in chambers and heard Advocate Azid Nafees on behalf of the petitioner. The counsel contended that the remedy before the LHC was not available since the decision against which the petition was moved was taken by the high court in a full court meeting in which the demand for additional benches was rejected.
Office refused to entertain petition seeking more benches of LHC
Rejecting the objection raised by the registrar office, Justice Bandial ordered fixing of the appeal before a bench of the Supreme Court.
The petition was moved by Mr Sheikh against the backdrop of last December’s protests by lawyers that lasted over a month. The petition sought immediate intervention of the apex court to end persistent boycott of court proceedings by lawyers in cities like Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sargodha and Sahiwal.
The petition said different district bar associations were on strikes and lawyers were not appearing in the courts — a practice which was severely affecting dispensation of justice.
Even some elements in the bar had resorted to violent protests against the refusal to establish new benches in their cities and had even threatened rather intimidated the district administrations, damaging property and locking court rooms, the petition said. Even video footage of the ugly violent demonstrations had been widely posted on social media, it added.
Now, it said, the Punjab Bar Council had called for a strike in the protesting lawyers’ support and asked lawyers across the province to refuse appearing in the courts to show their solidarity and support with the protesting lawyers.
At the heart of the protest was the LHC’s full court meeting of July 2016 which had unanimously rejected the demand for establishment of benches in these cities, the petition said.
It pleaded that as a result of the deadlock, enforcement of fundamental rights of citizens was being paralysed and every civilised notion of the rule of law was facing threat of annihilation.
If the Supreme Court did not intervene at this juncture, in exercise of powers conferred upon it by Article 184(3) of the Constitution, the loss might become irreparable and irreversible and (the situation) might lead to aggravated use of violent means at the hands of the protesting lawyers or law enforcement agencies, the petition warned.
It contended that the LHC’s full court meeting was manifestly arbitrary and discriminatory since it was held behind closed doors and thus lacked transparency as no discussion was held on the issue and no reason was advanced for the decision.
The LHC, the petition argued, was not only a court of constitutional jurisdiction but also a court of original, appellate and revisional jurisdiction, both on criminal and civil sides.
Currently, it said, the high court in Punjab had three benches, in Multan, Rawalpindi and Bahawalpur, whereas Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh — having one third and one half of Punjab’s population, respectively — had an equal number of benches.
Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2019