NA panel proposes mechanism for judges’ appointment

Published September 17, 2021
National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice Chairperson Riaz Fatyana presides over a meeting on Thursday. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter
National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice Chairperson Riaz Fatyana presides over a meeting on Thursday. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter

ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary committee on Thursday proposed appointment of judges in the superior judiciary through a competitive process to end monopoly of a few judges.

In a related development, chairman of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice Riaz Fatyana, who presided over a meeting of the panel, announced withdrawal of his controversial bill that had sought elevation of civil and military officers as judges of the superior courts.

The parliamentary committee sought recommendations from representative bodies of lawyers to devise a workable policy to search for eminent lawyers for posting as judges, minimise the role of chief justices of high courts in the process, and make the recruitment process more transparent.

Mr Fatyana proposed that a chief justice, instead of picking suitable lawyers for appointment as judges of a high court, should issue an advertisement through the registrar in the national media and invite applications.

As per his proposal, the chief justice would shortlist five lawyers for a vacant seat after their written examinations and interviews and send their names to the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP).

The JCP would deliberate upon these names and then would refer a name to the Parliamentary Committee for Appointment of Judges.

The members of the committee as well as representatives of lawyers’ bodies supported the proposal, but added that the Parliamentary Committee should be strengthened so that it could play an effective role in judicial appointments.

The representatives of lawyers, however, opposed the idea of giving a written test to the lawyers, terming it an “undignified step”.

The committee’s members were of the view that due to lack of parliamentary oversight and monopoly of a few judges, the elevation of judges to superior courts had come under criticism in the last few years.

MNA Qadir Khan Mandokhel suggested his pending bill on appointment of superior court judges be taken up and amended to incorporate the said proposal.

Lawmaker Mohsin Nawaz Ranjha said the lawyers should be asked to declare their assets before taking oath as a judge.

Mehmood Bashir Virk told the committee that former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, due to his vested interests, had turned the Parliamentary Committee concerned into a mere “rubber stamp”.

Mr Fatyana then sought the opinion of representatives of various lawyers’ bodies.

Faheem Wali, chairman of the executive committee of Pakistan Bar Council, said the issue of discretion in appointment of judges had recently been discussed in detail by the JCP, PBC and the other bar councils. He said the legal fraternity had deliberated upon the issue and would submit recommendations to the committee.

Salahuddin Ahmed, president of the Sindh High Court Bar Association, said that retired Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had turned the Parliamentary Committee into a “rubber stamp” because he was working on the agenda of establishing a monopoly of the judiciary in superior court appointments.

He went so far as to suggest that limiting the role of Parliamentary Committee had adversely affected the independence of judiciary and that the lawyers’ bodies had passed resolutions to empower the committee.

Vice-Chairman of the Islamabad Bar Council Zulfiqar Ali Abbasi was of the opinion that judges had not only “dumped” the Parliamentary Committee but had also made the representative of the bar council irrelevant in judicial appointments.

Islamabad High Court Bar Association’s president Zahid Mehmood Raja and president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association (Rawalpindi registry) Sardar Abdul Raziq said they would file recommendations after thoroughly deliberating upon the issue in the joint meetings of the bar councils and bar associations.

Bill withdrawn

Mr Fatyana informed the panel that he had withdrawn his bill on the matter because it had been “made controversial”.

The bill titled “Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils (Amendment) Act” proposed amending Section 5-D of the act, enabling persons in the ‘Service of Pakistan’ to become members of the legal fraternity; the bill subsequently recommended their elevation as judges of superior courts.

Under the Constitution, in the ‘Service of Pakistan’ means “any service, post or office in connection with the affairs of the federation or of a province, and includes an All-Pakistan Service, service in the Armed Forces and any other service declared to be a service of Pakistan by or under Act”.

In response to the standing committee’s proposal of making such inductions into the superior judiciary, the PBC submitted a written response that read: “The council also considered the proposed bill of Mr Riaz Fatyana, MNA, regarding insertion of new section 5-D… and rejected out-rightly the same, since it will tantamount to compromising the infiltration of persons, who have chosen and decided not to practice law but to seek an employment either in government and or non-government organisations.”

Answering a question about possible induction into the judiciary of many persons from the armed forces, Mr Fatyana said: “This may be due to the word ‘Service of Pakistan’ in the bill.”

The committee unanimously approved the bill tabled by MNA Mohsin Dawar seeking a seat for the erstwhile Fata (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) districts in the KP Bar Council.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2021

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