Attorney General ticked off in SC for controversial remarks

Updated 20 Feb 2020

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The Sup­reme Court on Wednesday ordered Attorney General (AG) Anwar Mansoor to tender an apology or come up with some material on the basis of which he had made certain statement that concerned every member of the  bench. — AFP/File
The Sup­reme Court on Wednesday ordered Attorney General (AG) Anwar Mansoor to tender an apology or come up with some material on the basis of which he had made certain statement that concerned every member of the bench. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Sup­reme Court on Wednesday ordered Attorney General (AG) Anwar Mansoor to tender an apology or come up with some material on the basis of which he had made certain statement that concerned every member of the bench.

The order came a day after the top law officer had made a controversial statement about the Supreme Court bench while representing the federal government in the Justice Qazi Faez Isa case.

“As certain statement was made by the AG about the bench yesterday, it would be appreciated if the material on the basis of which the statement was made is placed on record before the bench,” said a visibly disturbed Justice Umar Ata Bandial while dictating the order at the fag end of Wednesday hearing.

“If no such material is furnished, then we expect apology by the AG for having touched the matter that concerns not one, but every member of this court,” observed Justice Bandial heading the 10-judge full court.

The SC bench was hearing a set of challenges to the filing of the presidential reference against Justice Isa.

Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) vice chairman Abid Saqi and Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Syed Qalbe Hassan were also present in the courtroom when the proceedings commenced with a delay of around 20 minutes. The two representatives of the legal fraternity had earlier condemned the AG’s statement and decided to move a contempt of court petition against the AG as well as Law Minister Farogh Naseem for the ‘highly objectionable’ statement (now expunged) was made in law minister’s presence.

On Tuesday, the apex court took exception to the AG’s statement and asked him to take it back, but this was not all. The SCBA president demanded that the AG immediately tender an unconditional apology and step down from the highest office of the principal law officer or else the SCBA would not hesitate to file a contempt petition against him as well as the federal law minister, who was allegedly equally responsible for the unfortunate episode that took place in the court.

In a statement, the SCBA president regretted that he had been briefed on the highly objectionable statement (now expunged) made by the AG in presence of the law minister. “It is indeed very unfortunate that the highest law officer of the land had made such an irresponsible statement unsupported by any material, which amounts not only to undermining the public confidence in the highest court but also constitutes contempt of the apex court.”

He said let the government not be mistaken of SCBA’s resolve to foil any nefarious attempt by the government to disrespect and question the dignity and independence of the institution of the judiciary, by its ulterior moves to browbeat any judge with false and malicious allegations.

In a statement, the PBC vice president asked the AG to submit an unconditional written apology along with his resignation for his “unbecoming conduct”. The statement added that the PBC would not tolerate any government-sponsored attempt to undermine the independence of judiciary and the process of dispensation of justice.

“Being most disturbed by the unprecedented behaviour of the AG towards the apex court”, the PBC stated that it would file contempt of court petition against AG as well as the law minister. Later, a contempt of court petition was also drafted but could not be filed in time.

Contrary to his usual demeanor, Justice Bandial while referring to the arguments made by the AG observed in a high-pitch note that what the Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) was doing and why it did not prepare the AG to explain what specific violations of the law had been made by the petitioner judge if any.

Dubbing the AG’s arguments as showing lack of preparedness, Justice Bandial said the AG should tell the court the specific law that required an individual to disclose the foreign assets of his wife and children.

“Quite beautifully, you are only wasting time,” Justice Bandial regretted and ordered the AG to furnish a written statement otherwise it would be wastage of time.

When the AG replied that this was his way of extending arguments, Justice Bandial asked him again to put his arguments in writing since this was not the way of arguing the case.

Justice Bandial also dictated the order stating that the AG had made submissions on definition of misconduct and what was expected of a judge as laid down in different jurisdictions.

“We have asked him on what factual basis he was invoking these definitions and discussion in order to understand that the reference furnished before the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) prima facie amounts to misconduct. AG is granted time to collect the facts that address the definition he likes to read and has read before us,” the order said, adding that it would be appropriate if the court knows the context in which he was addressing the arguments.

Earlier, also a number of judges asked the AG to come to the point as Justice Maqbool Baqar asked the AG to realize the difficulty of the bench as the judgment being cited by him could not be applied in vacuum.

Justice Baqar also wondered whether the petitioner judge was required under the law to make such a declaration of foreign assets held by his wife and children.

Justice Sajjad Ali Shah observed that the petitioner judge (Justice Isa) had not challenged SJC proceedings but the steps that culminated in filing of the reference before the SJC. “You are not telling us the misconduct on part of the judge,” Justice Shah told the AG while explaining that the jurisdiction of the SJC to take cognizance of the reference was not being denied.

“Unless the AG shows the event that constituted the misconduct, I will not be able to understand. This is the question bothering me,” Justice Shah observed.

“Traditionally, it is the practice that lawyer brings the facts before the court to establish what constitutes misconduct,” Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah observed, adding that the literature on misconduct was being read without knowing what misconduct had been committed by the petitioner judge.

“We cannot appreciate the arguments if we don’t understand the arguments,” Justice Shah added.

Justice Faisal Arab wondered if he did not declare assets [of his family] in his wealth statement, a reference would be made against him as well.

The AG was of the opinion that the source through which the three offshore properties were acquired [allegedly by the wife and children of the petitioner] was not accounted for by the petitioner judge for which the apprehensions of money laundering could not be ruled out. These allegations are beyond the scope of Section 116 of the Income Tax Ordinance (ITO) and therefore needed to be investigated, the AG argued.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2020