ISLAMABAD: In the wake of coronavirus pandemic and the present lockdown, the Supreme Court on Thursday postponed the hearing of petitions challenging the filing of the presidential reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa. The case was fixed for Monday (March 30).
In a related development, the apex court also waived for a month the limitation period for filing applications, petitions, appeals and review petitions as its principal seat as well as all branch registries in different cities of the country will remain closed till April 21.
The Supreme Court has already communicated to the parties concerned, including petitioners and respondents, about the postponement of the Justice Isa case whose next date will be announced later.
A 10-judge SC bench, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, was to resume the hearing of a set of petitions challenging the presidential reference filed against Justice Isa of the Supreme Court for not declaring three offshore properties in the name of his wife and children.
Waives limitation period for filing applications, petitions, appeals and reviews
At the last hearing on Feb 24, Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan had requested the apex court to consider the federal government’s request for postponing the case for three weeks. He had said that it would be fair that he should not represent the federal government since he was personally conflicted in the matter for giving his opinion in the case earlier.
Justice Bandial had accepted the plea with a directive for the AG to apply his mind, but made it clear that the court would not accept whatever had happened earlier when former AG Anwar Mansoor made certain objectionable statements and had to resign as a consequence.
While postponing the case, the apex court had directed the federal government to engage a new lawyer who should be fully committed to the Justice Isa case since the new attorney general and Farogh Naseem as the law minister would not be pleading the case on behalf of the federal government.
Neither the attorney general nor the law minister would be the lead counsel for the federal government in the case, the court order had said, adding that in case the federal government could not engage a fully committed full-time lawyer, Additional Attorney General Chaudhry Aamir Rehman would plead the case on behalf of the government since he had attended all hearings so far.
However, the law minister was allowed to appear in person since he had been impleaded by name during the proceedings.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court issued a notification stating that there will be no bar on filing applications, petitions and appeals within the statutory period of limitation. Usually the appeals and petitions have to be filed with a period prescribed under the Limitation Act of 1908 which, in certain cases, is 30 days.
On March 25, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Syed Qalbe Hassan had requested Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed to consider waiving the requirement of limitation for filing cases in courts across the country and issue necessary directives in this regard purely on sympathetic consideration because of the present peculiar circumstances.
“This is all the more necessary,” he had suggested in view of the lockdown-like situation throughout the country, creating extreme difficulty for the litigants to reach lawyers and courts to seek advice and file cases within the time limit prescribed under the law.
For this purpose, a four-page petition was drafted on behalf of the SCBA president and filed in the Supreme Court on Thursday. It pleaded that the period of limitation be waived from the second week of March till further orders with a declaration that this order would be binding on courts and tribunals, including the superior judiciary.
The Islamabad High Court has already issued a similar order in view of the total blockade and tedious circumstances for the litigants to reach courts.
Issued under Article 191 of the Constitution, as well as relevant rules of the Supreme Court Rules 1980, the SC notification stated that for the purpose of calculation of period of limitation, provided under the Limitation Act 1908 or under any other law, the institution branch of the apex court, at the principal seat of the apex court and the branch registries will deem to be closed from March 22 to April 21, unless withdrawn. Therefore, there will be no bar on the condition of limitation, it said.
“It is expedient to facilitate filing of suits, applications, petitions and appeals before different courts, since the litigants are unable to approach this court on account of the lockdown,” the notification said, acknowledging the curtailment of movement and non-availability or scarcity of means of transportation — a situation which it agreed was beyond the control of the litigants.
Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2020