PBC’s challenge

August 23, 2019

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AN interesting situation is shaping up at the apex court. The lawyers’ community, judging by the actions of its apex statutory body, the Pakistan Bar Council, appears to have nailed its colours to the mast in the matter of the reference filed by the government before the Supreme Judicial Council against Justice Faez Isa. On Wednesday, the PBC filed a constitutional petition in the Supreme Court challenging President Alvi’s filing of the reference, which accuses the judge of failing to disclose foreign properties in the name of his wife and children in his wealth statement. This brings the number of such petitions to four: the first filed by the judge himself, the second by the Supreme Court Bar Association and the third by senior lawyer Abid Hassan Minto and human rights activist I.A. Rehman. The unrest among the lawyers over the reference against Justice Isa, considered an independent-minded judge who has handed down certain ‘unpopular’ verdicts, is reminiscent of the charged atmosphere preceding the lawyers’ movement in 2007. Among the concerns the PBC petition raises is what it describes as a perception among the legal fraternity that the SJC — a constitutional judicial body mandated to rule on allegations of misconduct — is not immune to external influence. The petition specifically mentions Justice Isa’s Faizabad case judgement as being relevant to the actions by the executive which it says has displayed “animus and ill-will” towards the judge.

News of the reference against Justice Isa, as well as Justice Karim Khan Agha on similar grounds, came to light in late May through a media leak — the first of several in the matter — and drew strong reactions from senior lawyers and politicians.Additional attorney general Zahid F. Ebrahim tendered his resignation, contending the move was not about accountability of judges but “a reckless attempt to tarnish the reputation of independent individuals and browbeat the judiciary”. Justice Isa then wrote to Mr Alvi requesting a copy of the reference if the government had indeed taken such a step. Intriguingly, given the delicate nature of the issues involved, this communiqué as well as a subsequent letter from the judge addressed to Mr Alvi in which he refuted the allegations against him, were both made known to the media by unknown sources. That prompted yet another misconduct reference, a private one this time, being filed against Justice Isa for having written to the president. The reference was quashed by the SJC on Monday.

In its petition, the PBC has urged the SJC to amend its procedures to ensure greater transparency, and allay concerns about its independence. The applications filed with the petitions have also asked the Supreme Court to issue interim orders and stay SJC proceedings. One has no doubt the Supreme Court will act in a manner that is above reproach and, in the interest of justice, first dispose of the multiple petitions against the reference.

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2019