THE 174-page detailed judgement of the 10-member Supreme Court bench on the reference filed against Justice Qazi Faez Isa lays bare some severe deficiencies in the government process. The court held that President Arif Alvi did not form a considered opinion under Article 209(5) of the Constitution, hence the reference against Justice Isa “suffered with multiple defects”. It also said that since there was no valid authorisation for the investigation, the tax records of Justice Isa were illegally accessed.
In clear terms, the judgement said that although the preparation and framing of the reference were not patently motivated by malice, the scale and degree of the illegalities were such that the reference was deemed to be tainted with mala fide in law and therefore quashed.
This is serious critique from the highest court in the land and it requires a thorough probe into how these “multiple defects” happened and who is responsible. It is a travesty that an investigation was ordered against a judge of the Supreme Court — who will serve as the chief justice of Pakistan in the near future — without due authorisation from the president or the prime minister and instead such authorisation was obtained from the law minister. This aspect requires being investigated so that the people responsible for this grave irregularity are identified and taken to task.
Randomly authorised investigations against judges by the executive must not be allowed, and a clear message must be sent to all concerned that such abuse of power has consequences for those who indulge in it. This also applies to the illegal accessing of Justice Isa’s tax records. The government has crossed many lines that are not meant to be crossed.
Delving into the tax records of a serving judge of the Supreme Court illustrates the weakness of our system and of those who manage it in government offices. How is it possible that no one in a long line of people who were involved in authorising access to Justice Isa’s tax records, and then providing the access via the department that holds this data, could muster the courage to call out the orders as illegal? This matter must not be brushed under the carpet as is the norm.
At the same time, discomfort persists around the Supreme Court order for the FBR to further probe the sources of funds for properties owned by Justice Isa’s family. Every care must be taken that this does not turn into a witch-hunt. The entire issue has reeked of intentions that may not be entirely honourable and this has created an unnecessary controversy around the person of a respected judge. Now that the Supreme Court judgement has identified the illegalities in the process initiated and followed through by the government, those involved must be held accountable for these misdeeds.
Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2020