SC takes exception to announcement of reference against judges by PM’s aide

Updated February 04, 2020

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"Under what authority did the govt discuss the filing of a reference against Justice Isa,” asks Justice Bandial. — Dawn.com/File
"Under what authority did the govt discuss the filing of a reference against Justice Isa,” asks Justice Bandial. — Dawn.com/File

ISLAMABAD: As the Supreme Court closed the arguments of the petitioners’ side on Monday, it asked Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan to explain whether a government functionary was competent to announce the filing of a reference against superior court judges at a time when it was already pending before the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).

“Under what authority the government discussed in public the filing of the reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa,” Justice Umar Ata Bandial wondered, saying these were core points the AG would have to explain in his reply to the petitioners’ arguments.

Justice Bandial, who heads a 10-judge full court hearing the challenges to filing of the presidential references, asked the AG to answer who had authorised the opening of an investigation against Justice Isa before the reference was filed.

Apparently Justice Bandial was referring to a press conference given by Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on information, in June in which she had told the media that the SJC would take up a reference filed by the government against two judges of superior courts.

“Accountability is for all,” she had stated then.

The Attorney General, however, sought two weeks to consolidate all the arguments raised by a number of counsel representing different petitioners as the Supreme Court asked them to furnish a written synopsis of their arguments.

In response to earlier directives by the Supreme Court to find out whether Justice Isa’s wife had visited the Federal Board of Revenue’s (FBR) office last week, the AG replied that the Regional Tax Office (RTO) had transferred her file back to Karachi from Islamabad as per her request.

But the AG made no mention of an observation made by Justice Yahya Afridi at the last hearing, on Jan 29, through which he was asked to ascertain whether the president was willing to reconsider and withdraw the reference or intended to pursue with the case.

A senior counsel told Dawn that commencement of the AG’s reply to the petitioners’ arguments suggested the government was in no mood to withdraw the reference against Justice Isa.

In a two-page letter written to the Attorney General by the Director General (International Taxes), Dr Muhammad Ashfaq Ahmed, the FBR conceded that Mrs Isa had visited its offices on Jan 27 and requested that her case be transferred from Islamabad to Karachi.

Mrs Isa was informed that she could file her tax declaration online under section 114 of the Income Tax Ordinance (ITO) 2001 from anywhere, even from abroad.

“It may not be out of place to mention that she had already filed her income tax declarations for tax years 2012, 13 and 14 online,” the statement said.

The Attorney General informed the court that Mrs Isa’s statement filed with the FBR said she had stopped filing returns as she no longer had any taxable income after quitting her job on June 30, 2008, and selling her property. But the statement was not corroborated by facts as she had, in fact, filed returns for tax years 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 manually and for 2012, 2013 and 2014 online, the AG added.

Since she did not file her tax declarations for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, she was issued a system-generated notice under Section 114 of the ITO. She has yet to file returns for the period named above, the AG said.

However, the court observed it cannot be ruled out that the FBR could have sent these notices to the wrong address.

In her application, Mrs Isa said Advocate Rehan Hassan Naqvi, an income tax consultant, used to file her returns, but after his death his partner Ms Lubna Pervez had been doing so.

“I have been advised that the law stands amended and now requires me to file my return again,” the application said, adding when she accessed her IRIS account, it showed that her RTO had been shifted to Islamabad.

“I have never filed a return in Islamabad and my address throughout has been Karachi,” the application said. “My RTO was changed from Karachi to Islamabad without authorisation.”

Earlier, Advocate Bilal Minto, who represented Advocate Abid Hassan Minto, Advocate Mohammad Tariq Hoti for the Peshawar High Court Bar Association and Taufiq Asif for Hafiz Mohammad Ansari concluded their arguments.

Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2020