'No one is above the law,' PM Imran says regarding references against senior judges

Updated June 03, 2019

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Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan  addresses a news conference on Monday. — DawnNewsTV
Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan addresses a news conference on Monday. — DawnNewsTV

The federal cabinet on Monday dismissed the criticism directed at the government over the filing of references against judges of superior courts in the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), saying "there are no holy cows in any department" and that the government will continue to pursue uniform justice for all.

The was revealed by Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan during a post-cabinet meeting news conference.

Awan said the law minister briefed the cabinet in detail regarding the complaints forwarded to the SJC against the judges, which she observed had become a daily story for discussion in the media over the last few days.

Editorial: Developments regarding the superior judiciary may be inviting more trouble than necessary

After learning of the facts, Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed the resolve that "no one is above the law", Awan revealed.

She said the ruling PTI had come into power with a mandate of ensuring uniform justice in the country and on a slogan of "one, not two Pakistans".

The minister stressed that the government is talking about the rule of law and whenever it thinks a citizen, "no matter which department they belong to", conducts an activity outside the ambit of the law and Constitution, then the law will come into force and "there will be no compromise on that."

"It cannot happen that Imran Khan while comprising on his political interests becomes a part of the status quo and shuts his eyes to what is happening in order to prevent difficulties from rising against him," she said.

Recalling the chain of events behind the filing of the references, Awan said the Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) of the Prime Minister’s Office had forwarded the complaints it received to the law ministry after "verification and counter-verification". The law ministry then did a re-verification of its own in light of the judges' tax returns and other documentation before forwarding the summary to the president, who then sent it to the SJC.

She said the complaint had been "verified and ratified" by the UK land registry, notarized and endorsed by the High Commission of Pakistan in London.

According to the minister, the cabinet condemned the impression allegedly created in the media that the references had been instituted by the government on a whim. She said that Prime Minister Imran had remained a part of the movement to restore the deposed judges and is ready to bring "every type of reforms" to make the judiciary independent and autonomous.

Awan emphasised that the SJC is a neutral forum that does not function under the government. "A complaint regarding the judiciary will be looked into by the judiciary, so how can it be considered an attack on the judiciary?" she asked, responding to criticism by the opposition parties.

"There should be no politics of any kind on constitutional issues," she said, adding that because the constitutional means used to file the references had their origins in "Bhutto's Constitution [of 1973]", the criticism by the PPP supporters is unwarranted.

She said the cabinet had supported the prime minister's resolve that there would be "zero tolerance" for any wrongdoing and that "there are no holy cows in any department."

The minister urged the media to "not set up a court on media" and let the legal process of SJC proceed till its conclusion.

The SJC had last week issued a notice to the federal government through the attorney general regarding references filed against Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Karim Khan Agha for hearing on June 14.

According to media reports, the references accuse the two judges of concealing their assets and recommend action against them under Article 209 of the Constitution.

The lawyers’ representative bodies across the country have convened their meetings after Eid to devise future strategy as most of the bodies and opposition parties have opposed the government’s move to file references against the two judges, terming it an effort to undermine the independence of judiciary.

The opposition-dominated Senate had last week adopted by a majority vote a resolution demanding withdrawal of references filed against the two judges.

The Senate had expressed grave concern over filing of references against the two judges by the president “in a secretive way” while the judges concerned were unaware of the move.

The resolution said the filing of references had evoked serious criticism, caused split in the bar and led to resignation of the additional attorney general.

SJC procedure

The five-member SJC headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa, if it decides to proceed against a judge, can issue a show-cause notice along with the supporting material calling upon them to explain their conduct within 14 days. On receipt of the reply from the judge, the council can convene its meeting to proceed further with the matter.

If the council at its meeting on conclusion of the proceedings forms an opinion that the judge concerned has been found guilty of misconduct or incapacitated in the performance of his or her duty properly, it can express its views accordingly and the same will be communicated by its chairman to the president as a report of the council for action under Article 209(6) of the Constitution.