ISLAMABAD: The registrar of the Islamabad High Court has informed the law secretary to communicate to the activists of Women Action Forum (WAF) that neither IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah nor any sitting judge of the high court has ever applied to any government authority or agency for the allotment of a plot and that no plot has been allotted to the judges.
A source told Dawn that the information was conveyed to the law secretary for onward delivery to the petitioners in line with the June 2 order of the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC), Islamabad, from which the information about the allotment of plots in Islamabad was solicited by the WAF members.
Over 30 WAF activists from all over the country had through identical petitions submitted on Aug 20 last year to the PIC pleaded that they were denied information they sought from the law ministry and the Supreme Court and IHC registrars under the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017.
The petitioners had sought information about the income and assets of the chief justices and judges of the apex court as well as the IHC, including the income and assets of their spouses and children, their perks and privileges, pension and post-retirement benefits, as well as income tax paid from 2017 to 2020.
Information had also been sought about plots allotted in any scheme administered by the government or a state-owned or -controlled statutory body, foundation, company or agency received by the chief justices and judges over the last five years.
In its order, the PIC had held that the registrars’ offices of the Supreme Court and IHC came under the definition of public body, recalling that Justice Qazi Faez Isa and his spouse had provided requested information to the petitioners voluntarily and voluntary actions of one justice could not be equated with legally binding requirements for all justices under the Act.
In the absence of any judgement of the Supreme Court which bars citizens from seeking information from the apex court under the Right of Access to Information Act on the grounds that it is tantamount to curbing independence of the judiciary, this commission is left with no option but to determine the matter, the order said.
In this context, it is important to understand the principle of separation of judiciary from executive oversight and public accountability through the exercise of the constitutional right of access to information, the PIC had held.
On Oct 22 last year, both Justice Qazi Faez Isa and his wife Sarina Isa had volunteered by disclosing their personal assets, the income tax they paid from 2018 to 2020 and the privileges he enjoyed as a judge.
The disclosure was made in response to the demand by the WAF, which had invoked Article 19A of the Constitution and the Right to Information Law to seek information about Justice Isa, his wife and children, as well as similar information regarding other judges.
In August last year, the WAF had issued a statement seeking information about public officers, including the chief justice and judges of the Supreme Court and all five high courts, chief of the army staff and all lieutenant generals, major generals and brigadiers of the armed forces, the air chief marshal, air marshals, air vice marshals and commodores of Air Force, and admiral, vice admiral, rear admirals and commodores of Pakistan Navy.
Finally the PIC, while partially allowing the appeals on June 2, 2021, ordered the public information officer of the law ministry to share with the petitioners within seven working days of the receipt of this order all notifications pertaining to the information sought.
In response, the IHC registrar, through a letter on July 29, 2021, communicated to the law secretary to provide the information to the petitioners in compliance with the June 2 PIC order, stated that none of the judges of the high court had applied for the plots nor they were given any plots.
The letter explained that the perks and privileges of the chief justice and judges of the high court were governed under the presidential orders issued by the competent authority in exercise of powers conferred under Article 205 of the Constitution. The remuneration and terms and conditions of the service of the judges are provided in the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.
Likewise, the letter said, all the presidential orders related to the perks and privileges of the judicial officers of the high court were public document and also available on the official website of the high court and includes the information regarding the pension and post-retirement benefits of the judges.
Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2021