Judges differ over time allowed to govt counsel in Isa case

Published April 23, 2021
A ten-member bench, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, was hearing the review petitions filed in the case. — Photo courtesy Supreme Court website/File
A ten-member bench, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, was hearing the review petitions filed in the case. — Photo courtesy Supreme Court website/File

ISLAMABAD: Judges of the Supreme Court on Thursday exchanged harsh words and one of them even left the courtroom as three of the judges differed over allowing government’s counsel ample time for arguments in Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s case.

The unseemly episode took place when a 10-member bench, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, was hearing review petitions filed in the case.

During the proceedings, when government’s counsel Additional Attorney Gene­ral Aamir Rehman was explaining at length the presidential reference filed against the sitting apex court judge, Justice Maqbool Baqar interrupted him and advised him to be brief because the court had repeatedly asked Justice Isa and his spouse to conclude their arguments as early as possible due to paucity of time; therefore, he too should not take too much time.

However, Justice Muneeb Akhtar asked Mr Rehman to take time to conclude his arguments. At this, Justice Baqar expressed displeasure and reminded his fellow judge that “it is inappropriate to disrupt” a senior judge. “I am only concerned with the time constraint,” he said.

Justice Akhtar replied there was no rush because “no race is in progress” here. Justice Baqar then addressed the head of the bench, Justice Bandial, and said: “Enough is enough because I have not interrupted Justice Akhtar when he has passed remarks.”

However, Justice Bandial allowed Justice Akhtar to put a few questions to the government’s counsel. Justice Baqar then pointed out that the court had asked Justice Isa about 40 times to be brief. “If a party wants to prolong the proceedings, that’s a different matter… but all eyes are on the Supreme Court.”

Justice Baqar then asked Mr Rehman to conclude his arguments as soon as possible. He also suggested that instead of reading out the entire court judgement, the counsel should provide the case’s title and the judges on the bench would themselves read the verdict that he wanted to cite as precedence.

Justice Sajjad Ali Shah said the court should assign a time limit to the additional attorney general to conclude his arguments. “If the lawyer is interrupted again and again, I will stand up and leave the court,” he warned.

Justice Baqar then said: “I can also get up and leave the court.”

Mr Rehman suggested that the court take a 10-minute break. At this Justice Baqar said a break would not make any difference, and stood up and left the courtroom.

During the proceedings, Justice Isa’s counsel Hamid Khan said the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) becomes inactive when a reference is dealt with. In response, Justice Bandial said the council does not become inactive as information can be submitted to it.

Advocate Khan replied that no action could be taken with regard to the references that had been revoked.

Justice Akhtar remarked that there was no mention of restoration of the reference in the court’s judgement, adding that the council would review the contents of the papers submitted by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

Mr Khan argued that assets belonging to a judge’s wife and children could not be reviewed by the SJC. However, Justice Bandial cited the example of Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s case where the assets of his son Arsalan Iftikhar were reviewed.

“The Supreme Court has also made observations about the families of judges before.”

Justice Bandial said the mode of scrutiny of a public office holder is stricter than that of a common man. There is no case of corruption against Justice Isa and his family.

Advocate Khan said the SJC was not a permanent body, therefore, it could not be directed to take suo motu notices. Justice Bandial remarked that to date the FBR’s report had not been reviewed by the SJC.

Mr Khan argued that a judge was not bound to explain vague allegations. Justice Bandial responded by saying that if there was an error in the judgement, he would rectify it.

Advocate Khan said the Supreme Court did not have the power to give directives to the FBR. Justice Bandial was of the view that the court had wide powers under Article 184/3, and every citizen had the right to own a property abroad, but there was a difference between a public official and a common man.

Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, while addressing the additional attorney general, said the court’s decision he was referring to was different from the pending case.

The presidential reference against Justice Isa was rejected by a majority of judges, Justice Shah said, adding that it was not certain whether the FBR would take action after the verdict of the Supreme Court.

“The FBR began the investigation against the family of the judge in the light of our order. The presidential reference was against A but the proceedings were initiated against B,” he said.

“Give me one legal example of a case where a case was initiated against a man but proceedings were carried out against his wife,” he asked.

Mr Rehman said that had FBR not taken action against offshore properties, it would have committed contempt of court.

The court adjourned the hearing until Friday (today).

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2021

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