SC accepts review petitions in Justice Isa presidential reference verdict

Published April 26, 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

The Supreme Court on Monday accepted all review petitions challenging the court's judgement in the presidential reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa except the one filed by the judge himself.

A 10-member bench, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, was hearing review petitions filed against the court’s June 19, 2020, judgement on the presidential reference in which the court had empowered the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to conduct an inquiry into offshore assets of his spouse.

The court's short order stated that "directions contained in paras 4 to 11 in the impugned short order dated 19.06.2020 ... alongwith supporting detailed reasons given in the majority judgement of the same date are recalled and set aside.

"All the subsequent proceedings, actions, orders, information and reports in pursuance of the directions contained in the short order dated 19.6.2020 and the detailed reasons thereof, are declared to be illegal and without any legal effect."

The judgement added that "resultantly, any such proceedings, actions, orders or reports cannot be considered or acted upon or pursued any further by any forum or authority including the Supreme Judicial Council."

The top court accepted the review petitions by a majority of 6-4. Justice Maqbool Baqar, Justice Manzoor Ahmad Malik, Justice Aminuddin Khan, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Mazhar Alam accepted the petitions.

However, Justice Isa's review petition was accepted by five judges and dismissed by five judges. Justice Afridi accepted all similar petitions but dismissed Justice Isa's petition most likely on the basis of the point he had maintained throughout the hearings — a judge cannot be a petitioner himself.

The court declared legal actions taken by the FBR and all other forums related to the assets of Justice Isa's wife and children as "illegal".

On April 13, the apex court had dismissed the judge's application seeking live telecast of the proceedings on his review petition against the verdict in presidential reference case.

The application was dismissed by a 6-4 majority of a larger bench of 10 judges headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial. Justice Maqbool Baqar, Justice Manzoor Ahmad Malik, Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah dissented from the majority judgement. They were of the opinion that the SC registrar should take measures for live streaming of the matters of public interest.

During today's hearing, Justice Isa alleged that new evidence was being made part of the proceedings.

Sarina Isa said that Justice Bandial and Justice Akhtar were making efforts for accountability which was why they should make their assets and the assets of their wives public.

Counsel for the federal government Amir Rehman said that the actions of the Supreme Judicial Council could not be challenged nor could it be stopped from scrutinising any evidence. "The Supreme Court can only interfere in the council under extraordinary conditions."

Justice Baqar questioned whether it would affect the Supreme Judicial Council if the top court's judges gave their observations on the FBR report.

Rehman replied that the Supreme Court had the right to ask questions according to rules. "The court can also ask for statements to be recorded to ascertain facts. The foundation of the case is three questions."

Presidential reference

Justice Isa was the subject of a presidential reference that alleged he had acquired three properties in London on lease in the name of his wife and children between 2011 and 2015 but did not disclose them in his wealth returns. Justice Isa contested the allegation, saying he was not a beneficial owner of the flats — either directly or indirectly.

In June 2020, the Supreme Court threw out the reference, terming it "invalid".

"[The reference] is declared to be of no legal effect whatsoever and stands quashed," read the majority (9-1) short verdict on a petition filed by Justice Isa and others seeking the reference's dismissal.

Read: Who is Justice Qazi Faez Isa?

However, seven of the 10 judges on the bench hearing the case ordered the Inland Revenue Department and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to seek explanations from the judge's wife and children on the nature and source of funding for three properties in their names in the United Kingdom and submit a report to the SC registrar.

Justice Isa then approached the apex court, seeking a review of the decision. Bar associations, including the Sindh High Court Bar Association, also filed similar petitions.

A seven-judge bench was constituted by the SC to hear the petitions but four premier bar associations of the country challenged it in a joint one-page application and requested that the matter be placed before the CJP to form a larger bench comprising all the judges who had decided the constitutional petitions against the filing of the reference.

On Feb 24, a 10-judge bench was constituted to hear the set of review petitions.

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