ISLAMABAD: All bar councils of Pakistan on Saturday sought resignation of federal Law Minister Barrister Farogh Nasim and Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan for filing of references against Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court and Justice Karim Khan Agha of the Sindh High Court.
The Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), the apex regulatory body of lawyers, issued a call for a countrywide strike on June 14, the day when the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) will take up the references.
Subsequent to a meeting of all six bar councils of the country and deliberations upon suspension of membership of Barrister Nasim and AG Khan, the PBC convened a meeting on June 12 to initiate the process of suspending their membership.
Barrister Nasim, a PBC member, has already been facing criticism for not relinquishing his PBC membership after assuming office of the law minister. Likewise, the attorney general being the principal law officer of the country is the ex-officio chairman of the PBC.
However, PBC executive committee chairman Advocate Mohammad Idrees Sheikh said the PBC in its general body meeting could suspend and cancel the membership of both lawyers of the federal government.
The bar councils also demanded that President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan resign as the references were filed in such a dubious manner that one could doubt the move was a ‘fixed match’.
Punjab Bar Council will meet next week to finalise its stance on the issue
The bar councils — including the PBC, Punjab Bar Council (PbBC), Sindh Bar Council, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bar Council, Balochistan Bar Council and Islamabad Bar Council — unanimously demanded the withdrawal of the references since they were based on mala fide intentions and were filed without adhering to the mandatory provisions of relevant laws.
Though a representative of the Punjab Bar Council — Zeeshan Mirza, chairman of the rules committee — attended the PBC’s meeting, the PbBC appears to be in two minds on the issue.
In significant remarks, PbBC vice chairman Chaudhry Shahnawaz Ismail told Dawn that any decision on the situation arising out of the reference filed against Justice Isa would be taken in a general house meeting.
Mr Ismail said he wanted to take all the members on board to come up with a policy statement of the bar. He said the meeting of the general house would be held next week.
PBC vice chairman Syed Amjad Shah said the legal fraternity had demanded immediate withdrawal of the reference against Justice Isa, as it did not fall within the ambit of Article 209 of the Constitution.
“We have issued a [call for] complete strike across the country. No lawyer will appear in any court of law on June 14 and lawyers will stage protests in their respective areas against filing of these references,” said Mr Shah while addressing a press conference.
He claimed that the protest would remain peaceful and the lawyers would not take the law into their own hands.
The PBC vice chairman also condemned the statement of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan that the bar councils should refrain from doing politics over the references. “She should at least think before passing such comments and she must take her words [against bar councils] back,” he said.
He said the lawyers would continue peaceful protest in case their demands were not met.
Mr Shah asked the rulers not to act as kings since they were not above the law, every institution needed to work within its constitutional framework and the bar councils would stop if any group or organisation stepped out of their legal domain.
In response to a question as to why the lawyers were not letting the SJC decide the references, the PBC vice chairman said that the judicial council’s track record was “not very encouraging”.
“There was a huge backlog within the SJC, as the accused judges, even their sons, got retired while the references remained pending for quite a long period. One fine day, the chief justice informed us that all the references have been disposed of,” he said.
There was a question mark on the outcome of certain references, the PBC vice chairman said, adding that the lawyers were protesting against the filing of references, and not against the SJC proceedings.
Answering another question about Assets Recovery Unit’s complaint against Justice Isa, PBC’s executive committee chairman Advocate Sheikh said that under the law, the FBR should serve a notice to the judges to get information about their assets to examine this information with the available record. But no prior notice had been received by the judges from the relevant organisation, he added.
Explaining the law pertaining to the Justice Isa reference, he said that under Sections 114, 116 and 174 of the Income Tax Ordinance (ITO) there was no need to declare foreign assets registered in the name of spouse or children if they were already listed with the respective tax authorities abroad and returns were filed there.
Also this was a violation of fair trial under Article 10-A of the Constitution since without even issuing a show-cause notice, the government had put everything of the honourable judges at stake, he added.
Wajih Ahmad Sheikh in Lahore also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2019