The Lahore High Court on Friday suspended the notification for the appointment of a new Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe the 2014 Model Town incident and sought a reply from the Punjab government.
With the court's directives, the probe team constituted in January this year has been stopped from continuing its work.
A full, three-member bench headed by Justice Mohammad Qasim Khan and including Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan and Justice Alia Neelum issued the orders after hearing two applications challenging the JIT's formation including one filed by Inspector Rizwan Gondal.
Gondal had argued in his petition that after a JIT has already been formed and concludes its investigation into a matter, another JIT cannot be legally constituted to probe the same issue. The petition stated that the Punjab government has illegally appointed a new team.
The verdict was reserved before the hearing was paused for a prayer break and then announced later, with two judges in favour and one, Justice Qasim, writing a dissenting note.
The Punjab government will now file a response and the counsel for the province and the petitioners will both present arguments before the bench, following which a final verdict will be announced by the high court.
Prior to the announcement of today's court order, there was a heated exchange of words between Punjab Advocate General Ahmad Awais and the bench.
Awais, who had not been present in the courtroom at the time the judgment was reserved but was present when the verdict was announced, expressed annoyance at the fact that he had not been notified prior to the hearing and the Punjab government's stance was not heard before the verdict was announced.
"In the history of the high court, this is the first time a decision was announced without hearing the government first," he said in vexation, announcing that he was boycotting the decision. "I do not have confidence in this bench."
The judges objected to being addressed in a raised voice.
"You cannot pressurise us by raising your voice," declared Justice Malik.
"I am speaking in a loud voice so the bench may hear me," the advocate general responded.
"We held the hearing on time and the law officer was present in the courtroom," Justice Qasim said, advising Awais to make use of the forum available to challenge the verdict if he has objections.
Multiple teams formed
About 14 supporters of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Dr Tahirul Qadri were killed by Punjab police in June 2014 during an anti-encroachment operation outside his residence. The PAT had claimed that the operation was launched at the behest of the Sharif (Nawaz and Shahbaz) brothers and some PML-N ministers.
A subsequent judicial inquiry report on the incident pointed fingers at then Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah and the Punjab police for what had transpired that day.
Following a Supreme Court order, a five-member JIT was then formed on November 13, 2014. It conducted and finalised the investigation in May 2015, exonerating former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif and Sanaullah from charges of ordering or abetting the police action.
It was headed by Quetta police chief Abdul Razzaq Cheema and comprised ISI’s Col Ahmad Bilal, Intelligence Bureau’s Director Mohammad Ali, Senior Superintendent of Police Rana Shahzad Akbar and DSP Crime Investigation Agency Khalid Abu Bakr.
A five-member larger bench of the SC, headed by then chief justice Saqib Nisar, had ruled on December 5, 2018, that the Punjab government must form a new JIT and launch a fresh investigation into the case.
Bisma Amjad, the daughter of Tanzila Amjad who was killed in the June 17, 2014, Model Town police action, had submitted an application to the chief justice, seeking the formation of a new JIT.
Expressing distrust in the earlier [JIT] reports, PAT chief Qadri had also made his appearance in the top court, urging it to order the formation of a new JIT because, according to him, no progress had been made in the case.
The PML-N had expressed reservations over the formation of the new JIT.
The new JIT is headed by Inspector General of National Highways and Motorways Police A.D. Khowaja. Its members include representatives of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau and the DIG of Gilgit-Baltistan police. It is the third team formed to investigate the Model Town incident.