ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Friday adopted by a majority vote a resolution demanding withdrawal of references filed against two superior court judges.
The house expressed its grave concern over filing of references against two judges of the Supreme Court and the Sindh High Court by the president ‘in a secretive way’ while the judges concerned were unaware of the move.
The resolution said that the filing of references had evoked serious criticism, caused split in the bar and led to resignation of the additional attorney general.
“There is a lingering suspicion that the arbitrary and suspicious filing of references is linked with some recent verdicts of these judges,” the resolution said. It termed the filing of references a direct attack on the independence of the judiciary aimed at stifling the voices of reason, truth and justice in the highest judiciary.
The Senate expressed solidarity with ‘the judges under siege’, lawyers’ elected representatives and the bar councils and demanded withdrawal of the references.
The resolution signed by leaders of various opposition parties was read out by Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Raja Mohammad Zafarul Haq after the house carried a motion seeking suspension of rules to allow moving the resolution by a division vote.
Move termed attack on independence of judiciary and aimed at stifling voices of reason, truth and justice in highest judiciary
Leader of the House in the Senate Shibli Faraz objected when the opposition leader sought to move the motion, saying that courtesy demanded sharing the resolution with the leader of the house before it was moved.
Interestingly, the resolution read out by Zafarul Haq was different from the signed text shared with the media. The text shared with the media read, “The Senate of Pakistan strongly condemns the references filed by the Government against the upright and independent judges of superior judiciary before the Supreme Judicial Council. While supporting across the board accountability, the Senate feels that these targeted references are mala fide and politically motivated.”
Earlier, the house rejected by a majority vote the Islamabad High Court (Amendment) Bill 2019 seeking to increase the sanctioned strength of the high court judges from seven to 10.
PPP parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman was the first to oppose the move, saying that the report of the Senate’s standing committee on law clearing the bill had just been received and the members must get time to go through the report to see if any amendment had been made.
She rejected the argument that the parties had representation in the committee and recalled that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf had changed its decision on the child marriage bill taken at the Senate standing committee. “While the party supported the bill in the standing committee, it chose to abstain during voting on the bill in the house,” she said.
Ms Rehman said the total number of cases pending in the superior courts was 1.8 million and the proportion of pending cases in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) was the minimum. She asserted that the legislation should not be bulldozed.
Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Swati said the bill would lapse if not passed before June 4.
Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar of the PPP while opposing the bill said three seats of judges in the IHC were vacant out of the seven sanctioned posts. He also pointed out that the law minister had agreed to amend the bill to provide for appointment of judges only from Islamabad.
He linked the bill with the filing of references against the judges and said some recent events had created doubts about the government’s intention. “We will not allow passage of the bill under the given circumstances,” he remarked.
Mr Khokhar said while the government was trying to send some judges packing, it was also seeking to appoint judges of its choice.
Shibli Faraz despite the opposition of the bill asked the chair to put it for voting so that those opposing steps aimed at alleviating sufferings of the litigants were exposed.
He argued that it was being done only due to corruption cases against some leaders. “You have trampled the judiciary and changed your stance to save your leaders,” he said while addressing opposition members.
The bill already passed by the National Assembly was finally rejected by the Senate with a majority vote.
Rule 7 of the rules of procedure and conduct of business of the National Assembly reads, “If a Bill transmitted to the Senate is rejected or not passed within 90 days of its laying in the Senate, or is passed by the Senate with amendment but not passed by the Assembly with such amendment, any Minister, in the case of a Government Bill, or, in any other case, any member may, after giving two days notice, move that the Bill be considered in a joint sitting.”
The government agreed to postpone voting on the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority Bill after the opposition said it needed time to see the report of the standing committee before voting on the bill.
The session was prorogued sine die.
Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2019