ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The much-needed elevation of judges to the Lahore High Court has become a sticking point for the past many years as every now and then a list of proposed candidates starts to do the rounds on social media but without any final decision.
A meeting in this regard was also held between Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed and LHC Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan on Thursday, but sources claimed that so far no final nod had been accorded to the list.
Out of a total sanctioned strength of 60, the elevation of 20 judges or so has to be made to fill the existing vacancies in the high court which have been lying vacant for almost two years.
The Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) on Friday expressed concern over the reports on social media about the meeting during which the chief justices of the Supreme Court and the LHC reportedly discussed and finalised a list of persons being appointed as judges of the high court which, the council believed, also contained the names of those who were never interested in their elevation.
PBC vice chairman Abid Saqi in a statement demanded that the authorities concerned check such reports and clarify the factual position.
PBC refuses to accept any elevation without consultation with its representatives in JCP
The PBC also requested the CJP to immediately share the actual list of judges being considered for elevation with Akhtar Hussain, who represents the PBC in the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP), for a meaningful consultation.
The JCP is a constitutional body under Article 175-A of the Constitution which decides elevation of judges to the superior judiciary, including high courts and the Supreme Court.
Mr Saqi said the PBC after getting the list would hold talks with the representatives of provincial and Islamabad bar councils for fulfilling the real objective of meaningful consultation with the bar for being an important stakeholder. Only after that, he added, the matter should be considered by the JCP in its meeting.
Mr Saqi warned that the legal fraternity would not accept any elevation if made without meaningful consultation with its representatives in the JCP.
Transparency in the process of appointment of judges in the superior judiciary has been a constant demand of the bar associations.
During a media interaction on Aug 13, the PBC vice chairman had also expressed concern over the procedure for appointment of superior court judges in which, according him, the role of other stakeholders like the bar councils and the executive through the parliamentary committee had become redundant. He had alleged that only near and dear ones or the chamber fellows qualified to be elevated to the superior judiciary, thus there was no merit or transparency in such appointments.
During the period of former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the-then elected representatives of the PBC had suggested certain amendments to the Judicial Commission Rules 2010 for appointment of judges.
The proposed amendments called for incorporating the purposeful and meaningful consultation with the PCB by taking the bar councils into confidence before sending of the names to the Judicial Commission by the CJP or chief justices of the high courts for their elevation as judges of the superior judiciary.
The PBC is of the view that any member of the JCP should have the right to propose the names of judges in the commission’s meeting.
However, a senior lawyer on condition of anonymity said the role the PBC was demanding from the JCP was not stipulated in the Constitution. Therefore, the council’s demand was extra-constitutional, he said, adding that such demands had been made from time to time to allegedly exert undue pressure on the incumbent chief justices to have favourites of the bar representatives accommodated in the list of nominees.
What actually was required from the JCP, he suggested, was to develop a more fair and transparent system of nomination than the one invoked. “Bar councils are already facing problems of the regulatory capture and, therefore, the judicial appointments cannot be made hostage to such regulatory capture,” he said, adding that before picking up a name for elevation, the criteria should be that the legal credentials of the candidate were strong enough to withstand undue pressures from all quarters, including the legal fraternity.
Process termed non-transparent
Senior leaders of the legal fraternity in Lahore expressed concern over the leak of a list of nominees for the judges of the LHC and termed the appointment process non-transparent.
“We strongly condemn the circulation of a so-called list on social media containing our names along with others for appointment as judges,” said a joint statement issued by PBC vice chairman Saqi, its executive committee’s chairman Azam Nazir Tarar and LHC Bar Association president Tahir Nasarullah Warraich.
The lawyers’ representatives clarified that they had neither requested nor consented for the said appointments. However, the statement said, they had been strongly criticising the process of appointment in the superior judiciary and termed it non-transparent. They said the move had been made by some elements in order to malign them as office-bearers of the bar. They demanded the relevant quarters to hold a thorough probe into the matter.
Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2020