Isa asks PM to explain use of state property for private event

Published October 13, 2020
Justice Isa, who was heading a two-judge SC bench which had taken up a civil matter, apparently got disturbed when an application for adjournment was furnished by advocate-on-record Mehmood A. Sheikh. — SC website/File
Justice Isa, who was heading a two-judge SC bench which had taken up a civil matter, apparently got disturbed when an application for adjournment was furnished by advocate-on-record Mehmood A. Sheikh. — SC website/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has asked Prime Minister Imran to explain why he used a state property for a private function where he addressed the Insaf Lawyers Forum (ILF) on Friday last week.

“Notice to be also issued to the Prime Minister, Mr Imran Khan, since the utilisation by him of public building, that is, the Convention Centre Islamabad, was for a private function which apparently had no concern with ‘the exercise of powers and performance of functions’ of his office (in terms of Article 248 of the Constitution),” says a four-page order issued by Justice Qazi Faez Isa on Monday.

Justice Isa, who was heading a two-judge SC bench which had taken up a civil matter, apparently got disturbed when an application for adjournment of the hearing was furnished by advocate-on-record Mehmood A. Sheikh on behalf of Ahmed Awais who was recently elevated to the position of Advocate General for Punjab. A request was also made in the application for granting ample time so that petitioner Mohammad Tariq could engage another counsel in place of Mr Awais.

Justice Isa also asked the court office to place the order before Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed for constitution of an appropriate bench to hear the matter.

On Friday, the prime minister had attended a ceremony organised by the ILF and used the platform to censure the opposition leaders.

Imran used Insaf Lawyers Forum last week to berate opposition leaders

Additional Advocate General Muhammad Qasim Chohan informed the court that Mr Awais was appointed advocate general in July this year, but the bench wondered why other counsel was not appointed when there was sufficient time available. The court, however, asked the petitioner to engage another counsel in two weeks.

At this, Advocate Syed Rifaqat Hussain Shah, additional secretary of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), contended that Mr Awais should not involve himself in bar politics since he was an ex-officio chairman of the Punjab Bar Council, a disciplinary body of lawyers.

But unfortunately, he said, Mr Awais allegedly continued to be actively involved in bar politics and participated in a function held by a particular segment of the legal community to canvass the support for their candidates in the upcoming elections of the association and was also at the forefront of the function held at the Convention Centre Islamabad.

The function was broadcast on all television channels where Mr Awais could be seen sitting with the prime minister, Rifaqat Shah regretted, adding that Imran Khan is the prime minister of every citizen and cannot align himself with a particular group, all the more so in a function which was held in a public venue and paid for by taxpayers.

In his order, Justice Isa observed that concerns expressed by Rifaqat Shah involved serious issues, including maintenance of the integrity of public offices and the fundamental rights, including Articles 18 (freedom of trade, business or profession), 25 (equality of citizens) and 26 (non-discrimination in respect of access to public places) of the Constitution as well as the prescribed oath of office of the prime minister.

“Since the matter appears to be of ‘public importance with reference to the enforcement of any of the fundamental rights’ in terms of Article 184(3) of the Constitution, this court accordingly takes notice,” the order said, explaining why the matter was being taken by the court.

Subsequently, the order said, notice be issued to Mr Awais, but since he appears to be personally conflicted, it will be appropriate that the next highest office holder represents the province of Punjab. Likewise, notice was also issued to the prime minister as well as Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan in terms of Order 27-A of the Code of Civil Procedure since the interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution and the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act 1973 was involved.

The order required the attorney general and the officers concerned to come prepared to dilate whether a public building and the public offices of the prime minister and the advocate general for Punjab should be used for personal or political purposes of the political party to which they belong.

In addition, the order said, the authority which operates the Convention Centre should also furnish a report explaining who sought permission for the use of the centre in respect of the function, who granted the permission for the use of the centre, whether the bill was raised and payment made and, if so, by whom for the use of the Convention Centre. The answers to these queries should be submitted with supporting documents, the order said.

The Supreme Court also directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority to furnish a copy of the complete recording of the functions held at the Convention Centre, a transcript of the ILF function and the television channels which had broadcast the function live, which had broadcast it later and how many times.

The apex court asked the Pakistan Bar Council, SCBA and Punjab Bar Council to assist it in the matter as it also appears to involve the integrity of the bar elections and of the office of the AG/chairman, Punjab Bar Council.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2020

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